jump to navigation

Auto racing and start-ups aren’t that different, really | VentureBeat October 22, 2009

Posted by pannet in Uncategorized.

When beginners attend auto racing or high performance driving school, they learn that drivers tend to go where they’re looking – and where they look is usually only 10-15 feet in front of their vehicle.

I see this all the time as I’m riding my bike.  While cycling on the right side of a shoulder, a passing car will wander into the shoulder right where I’m riding even when there’s no oncoming traffic.  I know that the driver is looking at me, even thinking that he/she should avoid me.  Nonetheless, because they’re looking at me, they tend to steer that way (just because they’re paranoid).

High performance drivers are taught to look much further out and to strategically optimize their driving around a point further ahead and to let their natural tendency to steer where they’re looking take them to where they want to end up, instead of just reacting to what they see directly in front of them.

Things are similar with startups.  It’s often easy to get caught with your head down, focused on near-term problems and opportunities while ignoring the big picture and where the new enterprise should be headed.

As with focusing on what’s happening on the road directly in front of you, when you solely focus on the myriad of short-term problems you have to deal with, they will consume your thoughts, energy and time.  You’ll be constantly drawn towards them – and, before long, your startup’s strategy will become less strategic and more tactical.

Here are a few short-term issues that I see grabbing the attention of startups all the time:

Features, features and more features – Yeah, you have to add features to your product. You simply can’t (and don’t want to) add every requested feature all at once.

There are two problems that come to mind here. One is that if you don’t step back and ask yourself if the feature moves you toward your strategic goal before implementing it, you run the risk of wasting precious time. Also, if you focus all of your attention on features at the expense of architecture, you can build a house of cards that will fail miserably later.

Weigh each feature in the context of the product’s goals before you spend time on it.

Reaction versus response – When a startup has only a handful of customers, it’s easy to get distracted by the feedback it gets from any one of them. It’s even easier to react to every call, email and tweet regarding the product and to try to address the needs or wants of the few people who seem to be paying attention.

It’s important to keep in mind that, as with features, spending time with early users is valuable inasmuch as the feedback is taken in perspective. Is the person giving feedback the target customer? If not, you may spend your time reacting to suggestions that don’t help you land the kind of customers you’re trying to get.

The technology itself – Loads of startups get caught in the vortex of the underlying technology at the expense of marketing or gathering customer input. Often, that’s because it’s what the founders really know well. The product is required, of course, but is just not sufficient.

Simply put, it is highly unlikely you can engineer a perfect product that will dazzle your customers and meet their needs on its first pass. Product development is much more than technology development and needs to include data from the market and from potential customers. Only when you have a complete package of technology, target customer input and market information do you have a real shot at delivering a successful product.

There are many more factors that cause startups to eschew strategy for tactics. A founding team needs to set a course based on a point reasonably far ahead, rather than optimizing around what is happening now.

There are many more factors that cause startups to eschew strategy for tactics.  A founding team needs to set a course based on a point reasonably far ahead, rather than optimizing around what is happening now.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that it can ignore what is taking place near-term.  A good driver uses his/her peripheral vision to observe what’s happening close to the vehicle.  Similarly, a startup needs to treat short-term tactics seriously, but only within the scope of the longer-term strategy.

Longer term isn’t 10 years.  That’s just not reasonable or even possible.  But looking a year or two ahead is reasonable – and even leaves a few brain cells reserved for thinking further down the road.

Keep in mind, you steer where you’re looking.  Steer the company toward a point in the reasonable future as you keep an eye on what’s happening today and you’ll find that you will encounter fewer mistakes, less rework and a smoother path to success.

via Auto racing and start-ups aren’t that different, really | VentureBeat.



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: