ATDC's Jenny Bass: Why an Execution Strategy Is Key to Startup Success
Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017
It’s what sets the high performers apart from the well-intentioned thinkers. As a startup, a well-thought-out execution plan can make the difference between successfully getting your product to market and running out of money before you gain traction.
Lots of other subjects — strategy, sales, marketing, finance, leadership, hiring, and public relations — have sparked endless content regarding startup strategies related to those topics. But relatively little has been written about execution.
This is something that is so critical to success, but has been glossed over or lost completely in the chatter of business publications. Brilliant and timely though they may be, business models create no value without execution. I’d like to make some suggestions on what execution looks like from a couple of perspectives.
For the leader, execution is creating a culture of action and accountability. It’s the ability to direct your team’s focus toward the successful completion of a stated goal, whether it is short term or long term. It looks like weekly progress meetings, email updates to a team, clearing roadblocks both internally and externally, one-on-one meetings with team members, adherence to timelines, and creation of targets. It is the mechanism by which tasks become goals, goals become accomplishments, accomplishments become strategy, and strategy becomes vision. It can seem like a grind at times, but organizational vision is accomplished by the actions of the individuals, and it is up to the leader to create the right environment to do so.
For the individual, it’s the discipline of making time in one’s day to complete the next step in a push toward a goal. It looks like reviewing documents, chasing down colleagues, writing reports, making phone calls, gathering data, completing a checklist, or making a decision. It’s looking at all those things spread across your weekly calendar and prioritizing time to thoughtfully complete a task rather than simply dealing with what shows up first throughout the day.
I recently worked with a young startup that had never raised money before, so I helped them put together a plan to raise a seed round. We discussed an executive summary, a pitch deck, a financial model, and an email campaign. They assigned which team member would be responsible for each element and met weekly with the sole purpose of making changes and gauging progress. After becoming comfortable with the final product, the team members developed a list of potential investors and decided who would approach each one and by what date. Again, they met weekly to report on progress, dissect setbacks, celebrate what worked, and figure out how to adjust. It was a difficult process but the young team was able to push through the challenges and successfully raise their seed round.
The path of execution can be messy and many times will bring along with it a range of emotions both collective and individual; frustration, annoyance, doubt, hesitation, fear, accomplishment, elation, hope, inspiration. It’s why execution is referred to as a discipline rather than a skill. It requires management of self and team to wade through these emotional midpoints to reach the stated goal.