Marc Andreessen says that a startup’s initial business plan doesn’t matter that much. I disagree. He says the plan doesn’t matter because you’re doing something new in an uncertain world. I say, on the contrary, that the plan might be worthless, but planning is essential — and you can’t have planning without the initial plan. I said that in this blog just two months ago, in Business Plans Are Always Wrong. "Planning means starting with the plan and then tracking, reviewing progress, watching plan vs. actual results, correcting the course without losing sight of the long-term destination."
I don’t know Marc Andreessen, but I know of him. He’s one of the most successful entrepreneurs in history. A co-founder of Netscape, who just sold Opsware to HP for $1.6 billion. I don’t like disagreeing with someone who’s been so obviously right so often, but what’s up with this?
I don’t believe he doesn’t respect planning. After that contentious lead paragraph, he implies the importance of planning process in the follow-up:
"And you will probably have to rapidly evolve your plan — possibly every aspect of it — as you go.
(The military has a saying that expresses the same concept — "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy." In this case, your enemy is the world at large.)"
Actually what the military says is the famous quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower, general and president, who said "Plans are worthless. Planning is essential." That’s what I’ve been saying, and I bet, if we could ask him, that’s what Marc Andreessen meant.
I think I know what’s happening here. Find a group of adults who were all straight-A students in school, and asked them whether they studied hard. They’ll all say no, they didn’t, they played instead of studied. Do you believe them? It’s not cool to have studied in school, especially when you can just claim you didn’t have to. Is it just me, or is it suddenly not cool to be planning? We had the whole thing about Twitter not having a plan last week (my previous post) and now Marc Andreessen saying that the initial plan doesn’t matter that much.
I don’t think he’s really advocating not planning, and I don’t think he’d disagree with the importance of the complete planning process, which is, ultimately, management. If that’s what he meant, I wish he’d said so.