When building a business, your most precious resource isn't money, it's time. You can't buy yourself more time, which is why you have to make every decision with timing in mind. Before moving forward with any major business initiative, my co-founder Todd McKinnon and I ask ourselves the following questions: is it the right time to pursue? How does this initiative fit with our priorities? Where will we have to divert resources? How can we prepare for the downstream effects?
We recently decided to make a substantial investment in a European data center. Our EMEA sales team had been pushing for one since we first opened our London office two years ago, using the EU's strict data protections as the primary reasoning. Todd and I knew the day would come when we had to heed their words, but we needed to wait until the timing was right. Here's what we learned from the experience:
Listen to Logic, Not Emotion
We unveiled our new data center almost exactly one month before the European Court of Justice invalidated Safe Harbor, the framework U.S. companies used to attest they complied with certain European privacy standards and could therefore receive data from and share data with local companies. The timing was largely coincidental--although we knew there was a chance Safe Harbor was on the way out. What wasn't coincidental was that we finally had a certain mass of large European customers asking to store their data locally to make the investment worth it.
We had gotten to the point where it wasn't just our sales team pushing for us to invest in a data center--our customers were showing us why they needed it. We had resisted up until that point, thinking investing early would mainly satisfy the emotional need of our sales team and put us too far ahead of the curve. When we heard it was advantageous for customers and saw the writing on the wall that current policies would be challenged, we knew we were approaching the curve. We planned to phase in the data center and devote proper resources to the project when we knew the reasoning was logical, not emotional--which is a benchmark all business leaders should use.
Lose Ground to Gain It
Once you've made the decision that the time is right to focus on a new project, you'll need to assemble the appropriate resources. And by "resources," I mean people. In the case of our data center, we had to divert engineering resources to focus solely on our European infrastructure. (To ensure that even the most security- and privacy-conscious organizations in EMEA had the opportunity to benefit from our products, we needed two data centers--the primary in Germany, with failover in Ireland--which required even more resources.) Some project managers weren't happy. They argued that by diverting resources, we would fall behind on other initiatives.
Tough business decisions often require that you lose ground in some areas to gain in others. Though daunting, you have to be willing to revisit short-term priorities and reallocate resources even when managers or employees resist. As long as your decisions are aligned with your long-term vision, losing ground in one area for a short period time won't hurt you. It will give you the opportunity to grow elsewhere.
Plan for Downstream Impact
Not only will you need to build and reshuffle the primary teams, you'll also need to be prepared for the second-order effects. The downstream impact of our data center landed on our customer success team--which works with our customers every step of the way, helping them deploy, adopt and optimize their use of Okta. We planned ahead and educated our team on how the new data center would impact customers so they could communicate the changes and better understand their needs.
When considering a major business decision, you'll need to meet with leaders across departments and discuss how it might impact their teams in the short- and long-term. We worked closely with customer success to ensure the team was prepared to devote the time and necessary resources to our impacted customers.
Every business decision is going to impact your people and how they spend their time--even those who aren't directly involved. You need to be prepared to reallocate resources and you need to know it's the right time to do so. Timing's everything when it comes to making tough decisions. Some might say we were lucky the timing worked out for our data center, but it wasn't luck. We waited, listened and finally acted when the timing was right for our customers and employees.