[Update: Since I wrote this post in June, we’ve rebranded our product to Kettle.  We still believe that “dark matter” causes teams and projects to fail.  Naming the product the exact thing we want to alleviate caused too many furrowed brows.]

Two weeks after I started working with Alex Chiocchi, I wanted to beat the snot out of him. **

This was months after I joined my first Big Company after a career at scrappy startups, and we were working on a joint venture between our teams. He was driving the product, and I was the senior-most technical lead. I felt things were moving along nicely, but Alex reached out to one of our partners and warned him: this thing is going to fail. Dan isn’t doing enough to bring the team together. What a cocky little s***, was my initial thought. Everyone on the team is smart, committed and knows what they need to do. Why do I need to “bring them together”?

I chose to listen to the warning, though, and really leaned into the team. As I did, I started to understand Alex’s point. Everyone was smart, committed and knew what they needed to do; yet, even with my increased commitment, we had to overcome a slew of delays.

As Alex and I worked more closely together over the next 2+ years, we kept seeing the same pattern: on each initiative, we’d have wicked smart makers, with strong organizational support and clear objectives, but they’d somehow always end up scrambling to stay on schedule. Why? In each case, we’d see a profusion of what we would come to call dark matter–external dependencies, undocumented project commitments, interruptions, distractions, unfunded mandates–that wasn’t acknowledged, measured and incorporated into plans.

What’s more: the people most upset about the project delays and failures weren’t even the managers, or the leadership. It was the makers themselves. These were our friends, so we started to spend a lot of time thinking about how we could help them.

Eventually, our brainstorming started converging on the same formula:

First, uncover the dark matter for makers, and help them act on it, so they can be accountable for their core commitments. That will make them happy.

Next, let the effects of smoother execution–and clear line of sight into risks and opportunities–propagate throughout their team and organization. That could transform entire companies.

At this point, we knew that we had something–not a bonafide product, and certainly not a business, but enough of a spark to fan with a full-time effort. That’s why we’ve both left careers and teammates we really love to form a company: Dark Matter. We don’t have The Answers at this point, but we’ll be working round the clock–and hopefully getting brutally constructive feedback from many of you–until we do.

Assuming we don’t beat the snot out of each other first…

Dan

** I later found out that he’s a black belt in Taekwondo, so exercising restraint was probably the right call here.