Tag Archives: decision-making

Startups: 3 execution activities that separate successes from “interesting ideas”

The sense of freedom in a startup environment (or “incubation laboratory”) is incredibly exciting. However, it is very easy to let this freedom lead you down the path of “what if”, distracting you from achieving success. You only have – at most – three years (many would argue two) to go from spending the “first opportunity dollar” to demonstrating commercial success. This leaves little room for distraction. Over many successes and failures, I found three things separated ventures that went on to commercial success from those that simply remained “interesting ideas.”

1. Hone your vision

Defining your vision can be a razor’s edge. Vision defines your reason for existence. However, it can become hostage to your day-to-day trials and tribulations, reflecting what you are doing (instead of depicting what you want to achieve).

Before you even start, hone your vision down to one sentence (a short one, not a 40-word one). Check with potential investors, employees and customers if this is compelling enough to fund, execute and buy. If you cannot do this, you will never be able to sell what you develop.

Once you get this one sentence, make it the core of everything you do. Use it to manage scope (execute what is needed to fulfil this—and nothing more). Use it to excite investors and potential hires. Use it to build your sales and marketing materials. Use it to keep focused.

2. Focus on disciplined execution every day

It is very easy to think that two (or even three) years gives you a long time to execute. It is not. You have so much to develop: the full details of your business model, a team, a brand, a product, brand awareness, direct sales and partner channels, an operations support structure, etc. You have to do all of this without a big enterprise budgets (unless you want to give your business away to investors).

The only way to get this done is to break it down into a manageable plan (i.e., more than 10 big steps but less than a 1000-step plan you will drown in). First, determine what you need to get done each year. Then, for the next two years, determine what you need to achieve each quarter. For the next two quarters, determine what you need each month. For the next two months, determine what you need to do each week. Repeat this monthly.

This will balance focus on the “big picture” with what you need to “get done now.” It will keep you from getting caught in “rat holes” and ensure you are not late starting longer-range items (such as building brand awareness and sales channels).

3. Be ready to respond to the unexpected

No plan has ever survived contact with the enemy.” That is why I favor the adaptive planning above. Things will happen you did not expect: some that easy to recover from (your internal mistakes) and others that are much harder (changes in the market; moves by competitors). If you are not able to respond and adapt you will not survive.

At the start pick the key people (i.e., 2-4 people) who will determine how you will recover from mistakes or adapt to external changes. Then diligently (i.e., weekly) take a hard at what you are doing to look for things that can “go wrong.” When you find them, acknowledge them and take decisive action to address them. If you do this regularly, you can nip problems early (when it is easiest). If you do not, you can only hope everything turns out as you planned.

By all means, these are not everything you need to build a successful start-up (or develop a successful product from an “incubation laboratory”). However, they are essential principles to manage navigation from an “interesting idea” to a commercial success.

Social Networks for Business Tip #4: Use the right tool for the Job

I have found ten common themes that apply irrespective of what your enterprise does, your market is or what technology platform you are using. The post below is my fourth of 10 tips; each with a particular theme. These are intended to be read in the order presented, as they will build upon each other…


If You Only Have a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail

hammer-and-screw1One of the biggest mistakes I see when enterprises build communities to advance their business is automatically creating a mini-Facebooks based their brand. This type of community is great for internal networking (and even better for business to business networking). However, it more often-than-not far less-than-idea for business-to-consumer communities.

fbliWhy is this so? The reason is simple: people only have so much time in the day. They have enough trouble trying to keep up-to-date on Facebook (likely their personal networking community) and LinkedIn (likely their professional one). They do not have time to join half a dozen other networks where they are going to have to create profile, check messages and post content—especially if the network is not focused on something central to their everyday lives.

So what do you do when you want to build an effective community to advance your business-to-consumer interactions and realize that trying to create yet-another-mini-Facebook is no more successful than when companies tried to create mini-AOLs ten years ago? The obvious: get another tool from the toolbox

There is More Than One Tool to Use When Building Communities

In Steps 2 and 3, we defined the problem we are trying to address and what success looks like. Now that we have defined this, it is easy to pick the right tool for the job.

There are a lot more tools out there than simple mini-Facebooks. Below are three that I see and use (as end user and provider) everyday in business environments :

  1. Mobile social media communities to call consumers to action to attend events of visit stores (physical or online)
  2. Social-based contest communities to excite people to share information to win points, makeovers or simply build social recognition
  3. Crowdsourcing communities that elicit ideas and “bubble up” the most popular to the top

As these “tools” combine and present underlying social networking widgets (e.g., blogs, forums) together in ways that focus on solving specific problems, I usually call them Business Services or Business Solutions.

A Simple Imaginary Application of This

Would you join a social network to blog, chat and post about gas stations (someplace you visit every week)? Probably not. (I can’t image why I would do this or what I would talk about.) Would you visit a contest community where people could share (via mobile phone pics) which gas stations have the best price in your zip code? Yes! Would you post there, if you could win points on your gas card or a free car wash if you find the station with the lowest price? Very likely. Would you ask someone to build this for you if you could get a good combined ROI from the ad revenue and increase business (vs. petroleum companies who do not have this)? Even more likely.

Real-world Examples of Businesses Who Have Applied This Well

Here are four examples of companies who picked the right tool to address the problem they were trying to solve via a community:

ADIDAS’s Mobile Social Network

ADIDAS wanted to drive in-store sales during the NBA All-star Week (while people were walking around the venue). A full-feature social network community would have been a poor choice for this. Instead, they went with a mobile social network. Click here to see a video on this initiative and its results.

Dell’s IdeaStorm

Dell has embraced social networking in many forms to continue to advance their mission for online- and call center-based tailoring of computers for consumers. The single initiative that resonated the most was IdeaStorm, a crowdsourcing community that asked customers to give Dell ideas how to provide better products. This has been their most effective community to-date.

Sometimes a full-featured destination community IS the right tool:


GovLoop is a community for government leaders and vendors to collaborate around their shared interest in using social media to make government – something they work on every day – better.

American Express OPEN Forum

American Express’ OPEN Forum is a business-to-business community that lets small business do what they do every day – build networks with other to get what they need and sell what they have – better than they can do without an online community.