I'm sure you have all seen entrepreneurs and startups with great ideas that never seem to live up to their potential, while others with more mundane solutions seem to take off quickly and never slow down.
For example, I used to regularly hear pitches for the next great social media site, usually focused on a special interest or niche, such as photography, cooking, healthy living, or a thousand others.
Unfortunately none of the struggling entrepreneurs I worked with turned out to be the founders of successful ones like Pinterest (photo sharing), NextDoor (neighborhood), or Classmates (school).
After investigating these successes, I have isolated certain strategy elements which I now offer to you as expeditors of success in starting a new business, independent of the product or service you are offering, as well as the market segment you are targeting. Of course, none of these are a substitute for doing your homework on the opportunity, and maintaining the energy to drive it:
1. Break the journey into small sprints with milestones.
We all need to see progress toward a goal to keep us motived and focused. If you tell me that you have been working on your startup for two years, but can't quite quantify the progress, I'm not impressed.
If you have completed four out of five milestones, we can both see success in your future.
2. Define success metrics, and measure progress regularly.
Smart entrepreneurs set reasonable progress targets, and use these as lead indicators to provide feedback and allow pivots based on things learned along the way. Startup success is rarely a straight-line process, so knowing where you stand at any given point is critical to success.
3. Look for tools to automate and simplify strategy execution.
Initially, you may be able to do everything in your startup, including product development, marketing, and shipping orders.
Too many entrepreneurs I know burn themselves out as this burden grows, and they are hesitant to use available tools or outsourcing non-critical tasks to allow scaling.
4. Focus on communication and responsibility assignment.
As you move from development to rollout, a team effort is required, including marketing, sales, funding, and customers. Your success and growth as a business is now highly dependent on your ability to clearly communicate what you expect from others, and keep them motivated.
5. Define and implement a rhythm to minimize business chaos.
Everyone on the team, including yourself, will be more confident and productive if they see things happening on a predictable schedule.
Most people like a weekly schedule, where they can see reports, predict management appearances and decisions, and feel in control of the business.
6. Regularly schedule time with outside advisors for perspective.
I can tell you from personal experience that it's easy to get blinded by daily crises, and miss key issues that gate success. Every startup should have at least quarterly meetings with an Advisory Board or key investors to bring a new perspective to what is working and what is not.
7. Make strategy updates part of your normal business cycle.
Nothing kills startups like an entrepreneur who is too fixed on a given strategy, and refuses to change in light of real data that changes are needed. Part of the culture that you must create is one of learning and regular updates, not requiring a crisis and loss of momentum on the team.
8. Most importantly, create a strategy before you start.
Too many entrepreneurs I have known started their business without any strategy or plan to make it grow.
They try to do everything at once - sell online, go retail, expand their product line, and be the premium brand as well as the low-cost producer. Choose your focus and do it well to succeed.
Thus I'm convinced that any strategy is better than no strategy. However, the best entrepreneurs provide the agility and foresight to incorporate the elements outlined here, allowing them to seemingly take any solution and build a successful business.
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, now drives the strategy of over 400 companies. But even he started with just one.