Use The Guillotine

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I read a great post earlier this week, whose thesis can be summed up as "your startup isn't unique, and it doesn't matter." Adam Ludwin, of RRE Ventures, argued that the success of a startup is not determined by its unique technology or innovation, but rather by the mix of good timing (the market must be ready for it) and good people (solid execution).

This is probably the most important post I have seen, for entrepreneurs, in a long time. Entrepreneurs come from all backgrounds. Technologists usually believe they will succeed because they have something new; salespeople think they will succeed because they can sell better; marketers are convinced success is theirs because they can better manage and penetrate the market.

In the end, all of them are true, and one alone very rarely is. Sure, a very innovative product for which the market is screaming can succeed on the product's merits alone for some time; similarly, slow incumbents that are underserving their markets can be undercut by a startup with existing products and technology but better customer service, pricing and segmentation. But overall, it is about executing on all of the elements.

The biggest danger I have seen is the belief in a "secret sauce," usually technological, that will "guarantee" unique advantage to this startup. Whenever I hear that from an investor, I advise an entrepreneur to stay far away. Investors like that are far more likely to drive too much effort into R&D at the expense of customer service, sales and marketing, and panic at the first sign of a competitor. You may have their cash, but they have your shares and may even be on your board of directors.

The only secret sauce to success in startups is the same as in every other business: execution, with due respect (or not) to Docteur Guillotin, who invented that rather gruesome and often ineffective form of execution, the Guillotine. Get the right product, new or otherwise, in the right market, with the right mix of features (product), market, price and customer service. Execute execute execute.