What's one very important attribute of a successful start-up? Is it the brilliant idea? Continuous innovation? or the plain old execution? All of the above are important for the young company to survive and flourish. However, over the last decade or so that I have dealt with start-ups including building a few of my own, I have realized that focus on execution is key. There are tons of examples of companies that had just another product like many others but out shined the rest with pure focus on execution. It's at any day better to bring a quality product with me too features on time vs. one with whiz bang features a year late.
Now, how do you build an execution machine? Focus, Focus, Focus. Focus on one thing for the entire team to strive for. Focus on building the team with members who have built the same into production many times before. Focus on building a quality product to solve a need in the market. Let us focus on each one of these criteria to understand a bit better.
Focus is everything in a start-up. It pays for the development team to focus on delivering one product. It pays for the marketing/sales team to focus on one market. It may even pay to keep the focus on requirements from a carefully chosen one customer. The focus delivers a solid understanding of the needs of the market and keeps the development team motivated to deliver one product. Distractions are too costly for any start-up that typically runs on a limited source of cash.
Focus on building the best team to deliver the product. Every team member of the delivery team must be handpicked for their experience in delivering a product to production many times. With a 12 month window to deliver a product to the customer in a limited budget requires each team member to be proficient in productizing the deliverable. There is a huge difference between members who have just designed multiple products versus the ones that have taken the specific product to production multiple times. Do not compromise in this area. There is no going back. Start-ups do not have the time or the money to revisit development. Take a look at your development team now. How many of your developers have designed the same block or a similar application to production? You may be surprised about the results. My analysis of over dozens companies in the valley reveal something very different. 6 out of 10 developers in the team had not taken the same/very similar product into production before.
Now that you are focused on the right market with the right team, it is time to focus on the 'needs' of the market. It's very critical that the entire team understands and differentiates the 'needs' of the customer versus the 'wants' of the customers. This is not easy. It took me a couple of hard learned trials to grasp this concept. The customers will always want more for less. The market will always want everything for free. If the customer needs it, he will pay for it.
Once you have a product that solves a real need in the market place, the entire team is focused on delivering the product to the customer and each of the team members have enough experience under their belts (to understand the pitfalls), there is a good chance of success.