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Seven Maxims That Have Led to Startup Success

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Even though I have seen many startups succeed, and many that failed, I still struggle with what really makes the difference. It seems like some CEOs are just more tuned in to the market realities, customer dynamics, people interactions, and are better leaders. But what does that really mean?

A while back I found some great business leadership insights in "The Secrets of Tuned In Leaders", by Craig Stull, Phil Myers & David Meerman Scott. They did a series of interviews with CEOs to understand how technology companies create success, and why most fail. They found many similarities between the companies that are winning in the marketplace and those that are struggling.

But behind the scenes, seven critical success factors emerged. So pragmatic were these "secrets" that most of the CEOs treated them as nothing more significant than looking both ways before crossing the street. But we all know that looking both ways first can save your life.

Here is a summary of seven maxims that I excerpted from their e-book, which you can use in your startup and every entrepreneurial initiative:


  1. Work as a trusted customer advisor. The way today's leaders create a sustainable, growing, and successful company is to instill a company culture of working as trusted advisors to prospects and customers alike. By first understanding market problems, then building the products people want to buy, and communicating to buyers an understanding of their problems, everything else falls into place


  2. Build from the market outside-in. Tuned in leaders understand the complete picture of market problems before building products. They develop solutions in the context of the total customer experience. The most important thing they do is to live in the prospect's world and look at all the touch points that matter.

  3. Simple is smart. The best companies create solutions that are narrow and deep. They organize around a single market problem and solve it completely with a solution that seems simple to the buyer, by obviously and most importantly handling all the related tasks in one easy step. Often, this means specializing in a single vertical market or industry.

  4. Leadership is distributed. Winning companies recognize it is better to distribute leadership and to employ a bottom-up strategic planning process that drives the business forward, than it is for functional senior managers to collaborate on decision making and push new strategies, processes, and plans out to the organization.

  5. Stop being a vendor. Tuned in leaders don't push solutions at their customers and walk away. Instead, they develop programs to partner with their customers in the process of continuous problem solving. As a result, they garner high customer satisfaction rates. A formal customer relations program is the first step.

  6. Marketing with a big "M." Leaders focus first on identifying market problems that exist and can be solved with technology, not just promotion and advertising. They organize around both understanding market problems, as well as what is more traditionally defined as outbound marketing (go-to-market strategy).

  7. Measure only what matters. They demand real measurements that help them run the business. Metrics must help answer questions such as: Should you increase spending to build new and innovative products? Should you expand your marketing programs? Develop new channels? Increase or decrease your marketing staff?

Executives and staff at most companies already are convinced that they are tuned-in (market driven). Their opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant. Think hard about how tuned-in you really are to these seven maxims? Looking all seven ways and listening carefully can save your career and the life of your startup.