In Australia, we have a phrase you never want to hear, particularly about your business: It’s cacked itself. An American translation would be catastrophically failed or died. Yet whether the mistake is big or small, failure is an outcome for many early-stage startup companies.
But an early failure doesn’t need to be the determining factor in your company’s future, a fiery wreck after all your hard work. So many people forget that failure is usually an opportunity to evolve, rather than marking a business’ demise.
I worked as an investment banker, built a boutique corporate advisory firm that was acquired by Credit Suisse, and after I completed my obligatory three years, returned to the chaos of technology companies and startups because I knew that’s where the real fun and true business happens. It’s where the stakes are high and the very real sense of risk (and the prospect for failure) has us all hanging on tenterhooks.
Success is all about how well you execute plans. Innovation and cleverness are never enough. How you bring your innovation to market and the strength of your product-market fit will define your company's success or ultimate failure.
Having a coherent, clear and resolute execution of a business strategy is the key factor that sets some entrepreneurs apart. Having the most fantastic technical solution is not nearly enough if no one is using it or people cannot understand what you are doing and why it is better. Providing compelling messaging, offering a clear value proposition and solving a real problem in a tangible and accessible way are all crucial. Then being able to tell people about it through strategic communications, analyst and media relationships and customer advocacy programs will play an integral role to your go-to-market success.
The challenge is how to arrive at this clarity when there are a myriad of potential solutions. It’s funny that I realized the importance of that journey while I was in the car driving.
Carry out decisions with confidence. I was teaching my children’s babysitter how to drive (please don’t ask) and we were coming up on an unprotected left hand turn. She was a competent driver who had been steady throughout our practice. I told her that executing an unprotected left hand turn requires good timing and asked if she was ready to try. She said yes and started to pull the car out into the intersection. Midway through performing the turn she saw an oncoming car from the opposite direction and she completely froze. (Granted, the car was 200 meters away, so we weren’t in immediate danger, but it was fast approaching.)
“We have to continue!” I said.
In that moment, I realized that when it comes to executing a plan, you must do it with conviction. Once you decide on a certain strategy, for whatever reason (well, no, it better be data driven) follow through on your plan with conviction. During the planning, strategizing and research and development processes is when to twirl your thumbs and go back on drafted strategies.
Commit to your ideas so they have a chance at succeeding. Executing your business strategy half-cocked and you won’t see the right results. Demonstrating a lack of conviction will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, just as evident as the prospect of that oncoming car and our need to accelerate out of there.
Adjust your strategy to respond to new data. It is also crucial, though, that if the data you receive clearly identifies that your plan is not working, you must quickly respond and adapt. The key to surviving the twists and turns of this journey is to have the courage of your convictions, but listen to the data and your customers and make educated but resolute decisions.
Decide and act with conviction to ensure that you not only meet your primary goal but also learn from your mistakes and iterate. Failure is never the end in business. It's only a point for reassessing and reimagining your strategy. What you do after you’ve failed is the most important step in your business.
Remember to drive your business like you drive your car. The American idiom, “move it or lose it” seems aptly appropriate in both circumstances. If you don’t commit to your business strategy with conviction you will lose all the potential to claim your niche in the market.