You may or may not be familiar with American football. For me, it is as much as part of my life as entrepreneurship, so let’s start with the basics.
Blocking and Tackling
Any championship football team excels at these two things. Blocking is what you need to win on offense, and tackling is what you need to win on defense. At the end of the day, these two things are the only things that matter in football.
Entrepreneurship Ideas vs. Execution
In American Football, everybody copies each other offensive and defensive scheme if it is the hot thing working around the league.
Whether it’s the Wildcat or the West Coast on offense, or the Tampa 2 or zone blitz on defense.
If it works, it will be copied.
The same goes with ideas in business. Your competition will copy your idea if you prove it works.
Execution is about blocking and tackling. Execution can’t be copied.
Execution is the fundamentals. Ideas come and go. You don’t win with ideas, you win with execution.
What is the equivalent of blocking and tackling in business: Marketing and customer service.
So there is the answer to the age old business question. What is execution? Execution is marketing and customer service.
Be good at those two things, and you have a better than average chance of winning. Be great at those two things, and you will win.
On the other hand, get those two things wrong and you have no chance at all.
I hate to break the news to you, but you’re not the only person who wakes up with great business ideas everyday.
You are not the only person who goes for a run, jog, or walk and has an epiphany during each workout.
You are not the only person who recognizes problems while in a restaurant, retail shop, or grocery store and then comes up with a great business ideas to solve that problem.
Sorry, you are not one in a million. You are probably 1 in 5.
Idea guys/gals are everywhere.
That is why in the words of David Heinemeier Hansson, There’s no room for The Idea Guy at a startup. PERIOD!!!
Startups need people able and willing of doing the actual work. They need programmers, designers, and eventually folks to do marketing, support, and more. What they don’t need, though, is someone who’s just going to be The Idea Guy.
Bottom line, is that if you want to start a business or join a startup, you must have a functional skill beyond just having the idea or ideas.
This is a short piffy post from Hansson that I found to be a fun and timely read. Check it out on the 37Signals blog here.
One of the quotes I have posted on my wall next to my desk is “Smart growth beats fast growth.”
Not sure where I first heard that, but today I read a blog post from Ben Yoskovitz on his Instigator Blog that reminded me why this mantra is so important.
Yoskovitz’s post is titled Are You Really As Far Along As You Think?
In it, he makes the case for taking one or two steps back until you as an entrepreneur nail the empathy and stickiness phases of launching your venture.
Regarding stickiness he states:
A founder that’s focused on user acquisition through virality, but can’t quite get the traction they want, should probably go back to the Stickiness stage and make sure that the core users are actually happy and engaged.
Regarding empathy he states:
Early stage entrepreneurs also jump the gun moving into Stickiness–building an MVP before they’ve really validated that it’s worth building. I always tell these entrepreneurs to go back to the Empathy stage and talk to more customers.
You will gain much insight from the step by step process Yoskovitz is talking about in this post. You don’t want to skip this one. It’s well worth it to spend some time thinking about these stages with respect to the venture you are launching.
Any entrepreneur worth their salt wakes up with a EUREKA moment at least once a month. However, when the dust settles and you do a few google searches, you realize that that eureka moment was a false positive.
Your idea sucks.
Hold your horses my friend. The fact that your eureka idea sucks doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start working on it. Many of the most valuable startups every created started with a sucky idea.
Jason Cohen, founder of WP Engine & Smart Bear Software, has a fantastic post on his blog from 2008 that explains this. He states:
…it doesn’t matter what your first idea is. First, it’s probably wrong. Second, the only way to find the right one is to try the wrong one and see what happens. You won’t find it by fiddling around with PowerPoint slides and Photoshop mock-ups.
So get out there and make some mistakes!
Jason shares some awesome stories about how PayPal and Flickr got started with crappy ideas. Go read his entire blog post here.
I talk to people all the time who want to be entrepreneurs, but can’t find a good idea to work on.
If this is you, stop. Stop thinking about ideas, and start doing shit!
This is the premise of New York Times bestselling author and co-founder of PBwiki Ramit Sethi. Sethi wrote about this in a blog post from 2005 (I know I have been digging back in the web archive) titled The Myth of the Great Idea.
Success almost never comes from a mind-blowing idea, so sitting around trying to find one is a waste of time. Success comes from a basic idea executed amazingly well. Ideas are rarely found by thinking. They’re found by doing.
There are three type of entrepreneurs. The majority are either makers or managers. The third type is the rare combination of both. Assuming you fall in the majority case, you will eventually have a big problem to solve as you start to scale your company.
If you want to focus on being just a manager and not a maker, who will lead product innovation? If you want to focus on being just a maker and not a manager, who will lead your employees?
Fred Wilson did a nice write-up on this conundrum earlier this year on his blog in a post titled Becoming A Boss. Wilson’s primary point is:
the time and energy and passion for making things can be all consuming and managing people can also be all consuming. Doing both well is really hard.
He also points out the following:
The maker/manager conflict sits at the heart of many of the development challenges that founder/CEOs deal with as they scale their companies and scale themselves. Conquering it is possibly your greatest opportunity and will lead to your biggest success.
In the full blog post Wilson shares several personal stories including one from his venture capital firm’s CEO summit, and one particularly telling story about an entrepreneur that he worked with in the past.
Please read the entire post over on Fred Wilson’s blog to get the full essence of his advice.
There is an awful lot to be said about firing people. As an entrepreneur the #1 advice you will get from experienced mentors on this topic is hire slow, fire fast. This advice is clear, concise, and spot on. However, as Chris Dixon states in his blog post: Firing is Awful.
Dixon, one of the most insightful entrepreneurs of our time, states the following:
It would be great if startups were all about growth, hiring, and success. But the reality is that founding a company is a brutal job and lots of the pain gets passed down to employees. Creative destruction sounds nice in textbooks, but in the real world it means telling friends to go home, stop getting paid, and find new jobs.
Firing is not easy, but as Dixon points out, it is more than likely the case that the person you’re about to fire is about to quit anyway (click here to tweet this). So don’t let feeling bad, stop you from making you both feel better.
Dixon has 4 other smart insights on the subject of firing on his blog. Please read his full post here to get them all.
One of the biggest fears all entrepreneurs have is that someone will copy their idea. I talk about that here and here, so we have a good framework for how to view “idea stealing.” However, there is still this burning desire in all of us to spend a lot of money on a huge launch so you can take as much market share as possible before competitors know what hit them.
This is a good idea in theory, but the founder of Justin.tv and Execu Justin Kan councels otheriwise. He States:
Remember, everything you are building today will be killed or iterated. The former is more likely than the latter. Great products are created by many incremental improvements.
In other words, what you’re about to spend tons of money launching will probably not be a full solution to your customer’s problems. Therefore, it’s better to spend time with a small cohort of early adopters iterating on your solution instead of wasting time on a huge launch that has a good chance of being a disappointment.
Read Justin’s full post titled Divine Inspiration Fallacy on his blog to get the full understanding of his advice.
This morning I came across a fun read from the founder of Instapaper, Marco Arment. Arment went on a slightly long-winded rant about customer complaints on his blog in a post titled You don’t need every customer. This rant had some fantastic insights in it. Arment went through how he interprets customer complaints which I think is very useful for all entrepreneurs to learn from. One of those rants from Arment is below:
No matter what you make or how much you charge, some people will find things to complain about. If you drop your app’s price all the way down to free, people will still complain — just not about the price. They’ll move on to the features, the implementation, the design, the updates, the way you look, or what kind of dog you have. They’ll complain about every facet of your app, and then they’ll complain about unrelated topics just to pile on. They’ll say they use your app every day and love it, then give it a two-star rating until you add their pet feature. They’ll drop you from five stars to one star after an update that broke their edge case, then never come back to update that review after you fix it.
The secret sauce here is that you should never let customer complaints drive you crazy. No matter what you do or how you do it, customers are going to complain. Just make sure you can interpret it and respond appropriately if at all.
Yesterday, the founders of Fab.com made an announcement about a pivot the company was embarking on. The funny thing is, when you go look at their website it doesn’t look much different than what it looked like before.
From my perspective the main reason for this is because no matter what Fab does or becomes, the founders have one big thing at their core: Design. As the founder Jason Goldberg states:
My passion is user experience design.
Bradford’s passion is to design the stuff people live with.
Nishith, Deepa, and Sunil — our co-founders in India whom I’ve now had the pleasure of working with and starting companies with for nearly 7 years — are passionate about designing scalable technology.
Collectively, our one thing is Design.
The secret sauce here is that you can change the direction of your entrepreneurial dreams quite often and still be successful if you keep the one big thing at your core the same. People may not even notice you are changing direction if your core remains consistent.