Execution: The unsung hero of Startups
I’ve had this opinion piece in mind for a while now, and thought it time to let it run free in the wild. Take a read, love it / hate it and give me your two cents worth!
There’s a chasm out there, or so many people feel. On one side are a plethora of startups: some forming an idea, others validating their ideas, and the rest actively working on twisting / turning their idea into a viable product / service. On the other side are investors looking for the next 5X or 10X investment opportunity.
I’ve seen discussions around this play out as follows:
Startup: I have a great idea, it’s a game changer. I’m going to make this happen.
Startup: Wow, this is harder than I thought, I haven’t even got a product yet and I’m already accruing costs. If that wasn’t enough, nobody is prepared to give me their time / input to help me on this journey. I’m alone…
Startup: Latest random startup (called… hmm.. “Sock+” which let’s say sources single socks for people that have lost one in the wash, and will make it an on demand app that will deliver anywhere!) has just secured $25M USD in their first funding round. Unbelievable! My idea is better than that, maybe I should raise some funds too!
Startup: (Approaches a number of funding channels) So I have this great idea, I’ve been working my ass off, and sweating blood and tears to make it happen. It’s my baby. Would you like to be part of the next big thing?
Investors: So tell us, have you got any customers? Made any revenue? Are you ready to scale? How do you see this working in a different market?
Startup: But Sock+ had just raised $25M USD to deliver spare socks on demand, SPARE SOCKS!!
Investors: Maybe so, but customers? Revenue? …You *do* have a product right?
Startup: er…. Kind of *wince* (Slips out the door quietly, and runs back to their spare room / garage to ponder the “rejection”).
Startup: I don’t get it, don’t they know what they’re missing? Fools!
Investors: WTF?! What was there to invest in exactly?!
OK…ok.. So it’s a little more dramatic and senseless than the every day startup / investment journey. But in a nutshell, that discussion keeps happening.
Startups feel beaten down, and investors feel..well disbelief. A perceived crack appears in the innovation landscape, and both sides start driving crow bars in there making it wider and wider. Ergo, a chasm.
It really hit home for me whilst I was watching the panel discussion this week at #elevate61, a fast growth program for businesses selling to enterprise customers and looking to get into the US market. The chasm formed in real time. Two of the panelists were from innovation programs, designed to foster innovation (as startups form / validate their ideas and begin building their product). Another panelist was from an investment company looking to help businesses (with a turnover of $500k+) to scale and move into the US. Picture it, step one foster / develop an idea, step two generate $500k of revenue. It was all too easy for startups in the room to feel like they were missing something. And they were…
The unsung hero here is Execution. That immense uphill struggle to reach the top of the mountain, navigating all sorts of challenges along the way (think building / releasing your product, finding your first customers, getting your pricing model ironed out, making sales, maximising revenue channels, achieving compliance / regulatory needs, supporting your customers — the list goes on).
Execution is the most valuable process of your startup’s journey. Sure it’s riddled with risk and often teeters on a knife edge between failure / success but, ultimately, it gives you the deepest understanding of your business / product and your market. You learn the most, right here in the throws of all the uncertainty. You may fail, you may succeed, but you will have one hell of a ride with a great story to tell.
Execution bridges the chasm between an idea, and a living, breathing, scalable business. It’s the beacon of light on the sometimes lonely path to reaping the rewards of startup life. It’s not always the sturdiest, or easiest, bridge to walk, but if you can make it to the other side there will be people ready to take your hand.
In my mind, it’s this part of a Startup’s journey that is the tipping point for innovation in any ecosystem — Can you weather the storm of the challenges you face, can you adapt, can you make the right choices? Often the challenges come out of left field and your totally unprepared for them. You look around for somebody to give you a nod of affirmation (“give it a crack!”, “do your best!”) but for so many there’s nobody there.
Having the right people around you during Execution is critical. To believe in you when you question yourself. To get you to think outside of the box when you’re fixated on a singular outcome. To make you question yourself when you’re being blind. Those support points are what helps you through some of the most difficult decisions you’ll have to make.
I say: build your network, find the people you trust, leverage people’s experiences / knowledge and steer yourself through the storm, it’s sunny on the other side.
I’d love to hear what’s worked for you? What was essential for you during Execution of your Startup? Where did you get your support? What helped you make the right choices? Write me a response, let’s hear your thoughts.
Matt Woodward is the Co-Founder of Reflect Growth — an EdTech start up focused on Teacher Professional Development & the Growth Mindset based in Adelaide. You can reach me at email@example.com or on Twitter as @woodwardmatt.