Execution is the key to high performance
By: Chris Nguyen, Co-founder & CEO, LogDNA
The world has changed. And, as a result of technology and open source networks, the pace at which you can bring ideas to market has changed, too. My partner and I started our first company in 2006 and it was a completely different landscape back then. There was less competition, limited resources, and smaller networks. It’s now much easier (but certainly not easy) to launch a startup and to deploy a product.
It used to be that “first to market” meant something. Now what’s important is who’s first to scale.
Whether you’re a large organization interested into tapping into a new revenue stream, or a developer thinking about your first build, there is no better time to start than the present. We have the tools and resources available at our fingertips to execute on an idea faster than ever before.
But it’s not enough to have an idea. Coming up with an idea is the easy part (relative to shipping your idea). It’s all about how you execute on the idea. Execution is the ultimate measure.
For me, execution means:
- Are you building something valuable? Is this something that customers actually need?
- Can you build it in the right time frame to put into users hands? Do you have a solid team in place? And solid relationships with your customers?
Let’s break this down a little further so you get a better idea of what I’m talking about:
Step 1: Building something your customers need
The first question you have to ask yourself before introducing a new product or service into the market is what’s the pain point that you’re solving? Every idea I had and company I started was based on a problem I faced. Once you established a problem, you then need to ask yourself how big the opportunity is, and how many people in the world are facing a similar problem.
For example, with our first company Job Loft, the problem my peers and I were facing was finding retail jobs. And not just any retail job. We were interested in finding retail jobs near our homes. After learning that the retail industry experienced a 70 percent turnover rate, I knew there had to be a better way to pair employers with potential hires than a traditional job board.
What we came up with was a platform that allowed you to find jobs close to any postal code or ZIP code. We worked with customers to iterate even further by creating a portal where candidates could upload their resumes and apply online. Since we knew our target demographic (students) were an on their phones all the time, we would also send them a text to to tell them when a place in the area was hiring.
The second company my partner and I started was around social commerce called Team Save where users were rewarded for every customer they would send to a merchant. The problem was traditionally, local merchants were spending a lot of money on coupons, reward programs, radio and newspapers advertising, etc. to drive consumers to their stores and these methods couldn’t be tracked accurately, beyond measuring the revenue the company was driving. The industry was ripe for disruption and social enterprises like Team Save changed the model.
With our latest product LogDNA, the problem my peers and I were facing was around analyzing raw log data. Every server you use spits out raw data logs, it’s the DNA of technology. Our problem was capturing it in a single experience and making the data more meaningful. We wanted to provide customers with proactive insights that could save them time and add value.
So those are a few examples. The key learning here is start with a problem and then get some validation. And it doesn’t need to take long to get it. People think you need a sample size of 1,000 to validate a product, but you don’t. I’ve been successful with sample sizes of 50–100.
Step 2: Getting the right team in place and setting them up for success
Once you’ve determined there’s a need for the product or service, the next step is to set up a team to execute on the idea. Establishing ownership is a key first step. There needs to be one internal champion who will spearhead the project and take responsibility for its outcome. There also has to be someone with the technical and business mindset to execute on it. Accountability is key. When it’s there everyone knows they’re holding an important piece of the puzzle.
In addition to accountability and ownership, transparency among the team is equally important. Everyone on the team needs to be aware of where they are in terms of milestones and completion. If the team isn’t going to hit the next milestone, it’s the responsibility of the leader to notify the team and explain why.
At LogDNA, we set realistic milestones collectively and use project management software to help facilitate the product development cycle. Everyone in the company knows what we’re working on and why at all times. Every morning, each team participates in a quick meeting to recap what’s been done and what the focus for the day is. In addition, All-team company meetings are held once a week to help keep us on track, as well as a weekly email outlining the good, the bad, and the ugly. And it’s not always good. If it’s all good, it’s a sign that there isn’t full transparency and this is a risk that needs to be dealt with.
As you grow, it’s difficult to maintain transparency. Priorities change, bandwidth changes. But it’s important in a high-performance work culture, so you have to work on it. Creating two-way communication with feedback is imperative. It’s also important to celebrate and recognize milestones. Product is always evolving, you’re always building, so it’s important to celebrate success.
Step 3: Getting the product into users hands
The next most important step is getting your product into users hands. Nothing fancy. An MVP (minimum viable product). This is when the real learning begins. Anyone who has built a product knows how quickly that product will evolve. And it cannot evolve until a user can provide feedback on it. I have friends who think a product needs to be pretty and perfectly designed before it ships. I say no. Instead, I ask myself:
- How can we get it done and into people’s hands
- What is stopping us from getting it into people’s hands?
Here’s some examples of how an initial idea evolved once we were able to get it to market:
When we started Team Save we had a stand alone product. People came to the site and bought stuff, and it was great. But then we realized there were bigger players that wanted to get into social commerce. We aligned ourselves with another company who shared our thesis, Kijiji, and the product evolved. When we joined forces with Kijiji, we moved away from being a standalone product and become a white label product for eBay in Canada and the U.K, not something we originally planned on doing. By partnering with a big company, you also reap the benefits of feedback and data.
Data is really important: it’s what caused us to pivot our latest product.
Before LogDNA we actually built another product called Push Market. On a fluke we realized what we built internally to manage data for Push Market was better than the original idea. Push Market was created to help ecommerce stores optimize personalize emails. We realized when we launched that it wasn’t the right product/market fit. When you’re a resilient entrepreneur you find another way. We realized that the technology we were sitting on was way more powerful. When we decided to pivot, we talked to a lot of people in the space. We asked them what they were using and what they would change about it and evolved our product based on their feedback. Everything I’ve ever done in terms of a product evolution was always based on feedback. It was never based on a gut intuition.
Ship fast. Learn. Iterate.
The first step in execution is to build something that customers want and then getting it into users hands as soon as possible. The next step is to build the right team. Then you need to ensure the team is working well together.
In a world where bringing ideas to market is easier than ever, the spoils go to the company that can execute best. At LogDNA, we focus on having the right team, establishing ownership for key projects and then ensuring there’s accountability to the work and full transparency and communication to all team members, so that no one is ever in the dark about where a project stands. That’s to me is execution.
Chris is the co-founder and CEO of LogDNA, an intelligent cloud-based log management system that allows engineering and devops to aggregate all system and application logs into one efficient platform. Prior to LogDNA, Chris was the co-founder of TeamSave, a white label social commerce platform for two eBay Classified Group portfolio companies, as well as co-founder and CEO of JobLoft, a unique approach to location-based job mapping along with SMS-based push notification that was acquired by on onTargetjobs in 2007. Chris held various leadership positions at onTargetjobs ranging from VP of Product, VP of eCommerce, in addition to GM of online personals site, Cupid.com.