For those who have never run a successful startup business, the idea of what life is like doesn't look much like reality.
Everyone imagines an epic journey filled with riveting experiences. A grandiose vision, fueled by dynamic, late night brainstorming. "Eureka!" moments resulting in product breakthroughs and met with instant market demand. Time as a manager focused on researching and grappling with those few, truly critical decisions that will make or break your business?
The reality isn't so sexy. There are few pivotal moments that you recognize as such when first faced with them. Or, just as often, the really meaty decisions you need to make -- product direction, go to market, whether or not to make key investments -- are muddy and impossible to call definitively one way or another. In some companies this creates a natural slowing down; pausing to reflect and to analyze and to work through the problem in order to land on the best possible decision.
Young companies exist on incredibly thin wires with deep canyons below. So, what will it be? Do you wait until you have the perfect plan, or move fast and seize the moment?
Having led 5 startups and watched or advised dozens more taught me a critical fact: the old adage that "execution eats strategy's lunch" is completely true. Daily execution - and the ability to analyze, learn, and iterate - trumps getting it perfect every time. This is especially true in tech and other fast evolving markets. Being fast, first, and relentlessly fierce can give you a significant advantage. Being willing to jump in, embrace and learn from failures as well as successes, and navigate your way to success can make you a market leader.
Every day as a startup involves dozens of little decisions that seem of only minor importance but that, over a period of time, make or break you. In the heat of the day, it can be hard to decipher how well you're executing, or whether you're missing a beat. So, focus on the fundamentals. Are you able to produce a product that a definable group of customers loves? As you build on it, is that pool of customers growing?
Strategy is sexy. Great ideas are riveting. But sticking to the basics is where the work gets done and a company moves forward. The basics is the stuff you learned in business school: business plans, cash flow, building a market, creating happy and successful customers, investing to turn small successes into repeatable growth.
If something seems like an overnight success, chances are good that a lot of footwork was done first. For example, Facebook didn't just spread like wildfire. "It expanded gradually to universities beyond a select group, then high schools and the rest of the world, but only when it felt it had the server capacity to support new users," wrote The Economist. Again, the basics. Running a business is running a business. Get the basics wrong -- burn your capital too fast, don't build market demand, fail your customers -- and your strategy won't matter.
Forget perfection. It is a killer. Focus on "good enough" over perfect, and then strive to improve from there. The tech industry thrives on constant innovation, even more so now given the speed of software development.
Bill Gross has argued that the single biggest reason startups succeed may have to do with timing. You may never know if your timing, or your product, is a winner if you wait too long.