I joined the Executive team in Glitnir in February 2006. The bank had an event in Luxembourg called “Meet the CEOs” and one of the keynote speaker was Garry Kasparov. The title of his talk was about Strategy, being a Grand Master of Chess, Garry probably knows a thing or two about Strategy. What I distinctly remember from the talk was that he emphasized on the fact that Strategy is always about Action. A deliberate, calculated and result driven action. As an Entrepreneur or a Startup, we are always faced with numerous paths based on a deliberate product, marketing, sales or funding strategy. I talk to a number of startup founders and entrepreneurs, the striking similarities between all those conversation when it comes to Strategy is that they always have too many strategic priorities and try to do too many things at the same time. This IMHO is a failing strategy. At the very early stage of the product/service development it might work because you are prototyping and you have not figured out the product to market fit, so it is fine to throw a number of ideas into the market and see what sticks. Again, the Strategy is deliberate, you are trying many things because of a hypothesis that one of those ideas will gain traction. It takes a lot of work to focus on a single strategy and execute around that. If entrepreneurs can get this one thing right the odds of failure can be reduced considerably.
Being an entrepreneur or a startup founder is f#$king difficult, and getting disciplined to focus on 1 to 3 strategic priorities is even harder. Even Elon Musk the quintessential serial entrepreneur has been focusing only on the Electric Car and leaves all his other ideas and companies to be executed by others.
Do yourself a favor, ask yourself what is your Product to Market fit strategy if you are in the early stage, if you don’t have one, get back to the drawing board and get that straight without that your startup will fail or run out of money or both. After you have crossed the chasm of Product to Market fit, you need to go back to the drawing board and determine your business scaling strategy. Yes, building a company is hard and takes a lot of work but there is nothing more insane than trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You need different strategies for different stages of the company.
The founder/CEO of the company is responsible for the Strategy, the success of the company depends on the CEO who can morph into different modes depending on the stage of the company. Ben Horowitz, has a very interesting post about “Why Founders Fail: The Product CEO Paradox“. There are gems of advice for Product centric founders. Once you have a strategy then the mode you need to get into is action, tactics and expected results. Another one of the best of Ben Horowitz post is “The Struggle“, I wrote about it… one of the best paragraphs in that post goes like this:
This is not checkers; this is mutherfuckin’ chess – Technology businesses tend to be extremely complex. The underlying technology moves, the competition moves, the market moves, the people move. As a result, like playing three-dimensional chess on Star Trek, there is always a move. You think you have no moves? How about taking your company public with $2M in trailing revenue and 340 employees, with a plan to do $75M in revenue the next year? I made that move. I made it in 2001, widely regarded as the worst time ever for a technology company to go public. I made it with six weeks of cash left. There is always a move.
You always have a move without strategy you will not know which one to take.