15 Startup Execution Principles
How to use leverage, probability-weighted decisions, experimentation & more.
Happy New Year to 4,855 marketers and entrepreneurs reading today.
I hope you've had an incredible 2022 and are on the verge of great things.
Your success in 2023 may come down to great execution.
Today we're going to look at 15 principles of startup execution.
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15 Startup Execution Principles
[Unicorn getting shit done]
While every startup has unique challenges, I think some principles lead to outsized progress in shorter periods of time. Here are 15 of my favorite insights into startup execution from my time helping build a unicorn (SmartAsset):
1) Put your best people on the biggest opportunities, not the biggest problems
Your best people want to move mountains for you.
Great contributors are attracted to opportunity, not fixing someone else's mistakes.
2) Focus on customers, not competitors
Success comes down to whether people will pay you to solve their problems.
Competitive intelligence is useful to understand where other attempts to solve a problem fall short.
But the customer’s actions speak loudest.
3) Pursue high leverage opportunities
Points of leverage are areas where inputs can disproportionally affect outputs:
- A better conversion funnel impacts all sales
- A better sales process impacts all revenue
- A better onboarding process reduces churn
A few high leverage wins will change your trajectory.
4) Experimentation beats speculation
Humans are unpredictable.
Speculation is often useless, so let your customers tell you the answer.
If a model suggests viability, test it.
5) There’s no formula for dealing with hard things
Hard things are hard because no one’s figured them out yet.
Don’t get stuck on a single approach.
Find smart people and collect the best ideas...
Test them out.
6) Fail quickly
Marketing campaigns bomb.
Product features go unused.
The great ideas are on the other side of a giant chasm of bad ideas.
Pass through quickly.
7) Normalize “i don’t know”
People who act like they know everything are usually full of shit.
It creates a bad culture.
Normalizing humility is profoundly positive.
8) Your customer is always the hero
[Your customer, the hero]
No one cares about your brand.
They care about what they can do for themselves with your brand's help.
Don't lose sight of this.
9) Make probability-weighted decisions
Potential impact = potential outcome x probability of outcome
Optimize for greatest potential impact, taking into account the potential downside of failure and opportunity cost of trying.
Some low probability risks have big upside and low downside.
10) Know when to optimize for speed vs quality
Some things just need to get done.
Distinguish between things that can be dealt with quickly vs those that must be done perfectly.
Too many people waste time on unimportant details.
11) Ask for help often
There are a lot of smart people in the world and most people love to share their opinions.
The worst that can happen is you might learn something.
12) When in crisis, lengthen the time scale
2023 is going to be intense.
Before pulling the fire alarm, ask yourself:
Will this matter a year from now?
Startups chase ambitious goals, which leads to short-term focus.
Small missteps often seem more important than they really are.
13) Discuss mistakes constructively
Internal retrospectives on areas where you missed the mark show people that the goal is to improve, not look good.
Self-reflection produces better outcomes in the future.
14) Don't be the bottleneck
[unicorn in bottle]
Bringing great ideas to life usually involves a lot of collaborative work.
Don't be the person that slows things down.
If your whole team has this ethos, everyone is doing their all to execute.
If you have the right team, the results will come.
15) Don't quit.
Hard work compounds.
It may feel like an endless string of tiny wins, large setbacks, and marginal progress.
But when all your efforts are focused on a single goal, the compounding force over time is profound.
Good luck in 2023!
15 Startup Execution Principles Summary:
- Put your best people on the biggest opportunities
- Focus on customers, not competitors
- Pursue high leverage opportunities
- Experimentation beats speculation
- There’s no formula for dealing with hard things
- Fail quickly
- Normalize “I don’t know”
- Your customer is always the hero
- Make probability-weighted decisions
- Know when to optimize for speed vs quality
- Ask for help often
- When in crisis, lengthen the time scale
- Discuss mistakes constructively
- Don't be the bottleneck
- Don't quit
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