Why do startups fail?
They run out of money, of course. That’s an oversimplification and actually it’s more the result than the root cause.
A lot of times, it comes down to failing to produce results, and enough of them. What I’ve realized recently, though, is that smaller, faster results are key–and it doesn’t always matter whether those results are good or bad.
I know a few startups that are struggling with their execution and it strikes me that they don’t have any enough small victories. Their goals are all or nothing, like big product releases. For months, they’re building the next thing, and there’s little for the CEO to accomplish in the meantime.
Similarly, they get stuck in trying to negotiate with a huge customer for months on and end it ties up their resources.
Even in the beginning, some founders can’t move forward until they raise their seed round. All you ever hear from them is whether they raised their seed round or not–and the company just seems dead in the water.
There are no small victories.
Having small victories isn’t a function of winning and losing–it’s about the design of your goals and your approach to them.
Language is incredibly important here. It starts with your team’s disposition around new goals.
When your team decides that enterprise users should be able sign themselves up, that’s a big project. That involves automating a ton of things that aren’t automated yet and untold headaches for your tech team.
What’s the reaction when the CEO says “I’ve gotten feedback from customers that they want to just try the product out themselves, and the setup and support team is already overloaded…what would it take to allow people to set themselves up?”
If the first reaction from an already overloaded tech team is a face palm and an “ugh”, that’s a problem that goes deep. That means the people involved are only thinking of the end goal and nothing in between–and not positioning themselves to allow for small wins. Each new challenge feels like a burden that will have no near term payoff.
What if the answer is more about what they can do right now?
“Well, the easy part is setting up just the basic account–name, ID, password, etc. We do that on our end and we could have an interface up by the end of the day for them to do at least that. There are some parts that would obviously take longer, but let’s make a list of what they *could* do within a week or so and then we’ll decide if that’s enough. I can have that list by tomorrow after talking with my team.”
Getting to a result, faster.
That’s the kind of conversation that excites everyone. It creates a culture of a can-do attitude. It also gives everyone across the team something to shout about. Maybe you create some kind of self signup that isn’t nearly full functionality, but it’s actually more than your competitors have. That’s the kind of small victory that allows for you to have something to announce as PR *every week*.
It excites board members and potential investors. That’s because you appear to be moving faster, when in reality you’re working just as hard and fast, but just breaking up projects by results-based tasks.
Results are just things that people can point to. They’re completions. They are the answers to what you accomplished today. If all you did was work on something, and tomorrow you work on that thing, and the day after, it’s going to feel like you’re living out Groundhog Day. What did you actually accomplish today that you can share and feed good about?
“Today, we let users change their screen names without creating new accounts.”
It’s a thing you can point to. Every day, you should have results–if nothing else, for your own sanity.
A lot of the hidden value in moving to a results focus is market and customer feedback earlier. Turns out that customers wanted to create their own accounts for some other reason that you never even realized–and the functionality they needed in the short term wasn’t really the big project, it was the small thing.
We have a lot of systems like this in place for product management, but they should be present in everything the company does.
You decide you want to hire, so a Tweet and a few emails should go out almost immediately, before you fully fleshed out and approved the description and job requirements.
A result. Faster.
You want to start talking to customers in a new industry, so a page goes up on your site the same day with some text about what you could offer to them. It’s not the fully built out marketing plan for that industry–but it’s a start.
A result. Faster.
You’re going to start fundraising for your next round. Don’t make the only thing a two week long project to built out a deck. Just make a quick list with your investors of who might be interested. You can do that right now–and what you might realize is that they come up with someone you already know pretty well. You could probably grab coffee with that person this week just to float the idea of raising even before you have a deck. Now you’re fundraising and getting a meeting with an investor is a result–and you just did it faster because you focused on smaller, quick victories.
What about your sales process? Is there a trial offering you can get people into at the end of the very first meeting? If your product requires a lot of custom work is there a version you could at least get people into that helps make the custom work easier later? If the only possible result in the sales process comes in six months, the whole thing is going to feel like a slog–both to your salesepeople, the board, and the industry. Everyone involved wants to hear about wins, big or small, every week.
So the next time you build something, get asked to do something or have some opportunity think about what the earliest possible result you can get to might be. Get your team to think this way. What can I do *right now*? What can we get done *this week*?
You’d be surprised at how much you could get done so soon.