Jacob Johnson, Principal & Strategist
August 18, 2023

19days, A Year (or so) Later

We launched a venture studio within the walls of Gitwit. So, how's it going?

A little over a year ago, Gitwit announced that we had created a venture studio called 19days. 

Quite simply, a venture studio is a company that builds companies. We raised $8M from both institutional investors and individuals with the promise of creating 5-7 B2B SaaS ventures over five years. 

A venture studio was a natural evolution for us. Dan and I set out from day one to build the entire team needed to go from insight, to idea, to validation, to launch, to growth. We have helped build and take to market new products and ventures for many companies over the years. We have co-founded several and fully funded and launched others. Each time we learn something new about building products, go-to-market strategies, and most importantly, teams.

Since announcing the launch of 19days we have: 

  • Created a venture in the banking space designed to reinvent what is still a manual and friction filled process, commercial loans.
  • Built a team feedback tool that is taking aim at the slow and ill adopted feedback processes (think 360s and quarterly reviews) employed by most companies. 
  • And most recently, we have created a venture that is reimagining the funeral planning process.

These are three ventures in wildly different domains. Which begs one question: Why do we think we can build successful companies in industries we know nothing about?

It’s a fair question. Actually, it’s the question. Our answer to all of our investors was and is, “Because we are professional problem finders.” And because most ventures fail not because they didn’t build a good product, but because that product wasn’t solving a real problem… or at least a big enough problem that people cared to pay for.

It’s one thing to go pitch something you believe as hard as you can. But when people believe you, when the checks roll in, shit gets real. Anyone who has raised outside capital knows the feeling I am talking about. Suddenly you begin to doubt yourself. You begin to question yourself. You begin to ask yourself the question. Why do we think we can do this? 

That’s when the pressure sets in to come up with a good idea, because that’s what we want, right? It’s very easy to jump the gun, to begin solutioning and trying to retrofit an idea with insights. 

In one of the best strategy books ever written, Richard Rumlet captures the struggle perfectly: “When we come up with an idea, we tend to spend most of our effort justifying it rather than questioning it. That seems to be human nature, even in experienced executives. To put it simply, our minds dodge the painful work of questioning and letting go of our first early judgments, and we are not conscious of the dodge.”

This brings me to the thing that has been cemented for me over the past 18 months. Staying in problem mode is much more powerful than idea mode. Becoming scientists who view their job as finding and defining problems allows you to do the things that most entrepreneurs and executives can’t, quickly find insights that have the potential to deliver breakthrough growth. 

We named our studio 19days for the Einstein quote: “If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it.” I might even take 19 and a half. 

It’s the part of our job that clients struggle to pay for the most. Doing landscape research, interviewing tons of customers, buyers, influencers, and industry experts. Getting into the field and doing ethnographic research. Slow and expensive work that has no guarantee that you’ll actually find anything. Now that we have been on the client side, hiring our own team to go explore deeply, I am addicted and am wholly convinced that nearly every company on the planet is underinvesting in deeply exploring opportunities alongside their customers.

Instead most companies are doing “research” to validate their existing ideas instead of exploring for new ones. They are, as Rumlet says, “spending most of our effort justifying rather than questioning.” 

So it has been an insightful, challenging, and exciting year launching Vela, Inch, and Prelude. As we continue exploring for venture 4, and growing our first 3, a challenge for you: 

Find an area of your business or of your customer’s world to go explore like a scientist. Send yourself or some team members into the dark to go explore, but don’t jump at the first thing you see. Keep asking questions and getting to more interesting problems. Stay in that uncomfortable, ambiguous, problem-space a beat longer than you want to.

And know that we’re somewhere out there too.