A few minutes ago Apple announced a "blowout quarter" of sales and revenue (Tuesday afternoon, January 24, 2011).
Twenty four hours ago the Republican presidential political hopefuls debated in Tampa.
Startups can learn a fundamental lesson from both events:
"You have to stand for something" to win.
STAND FOR SOMETHING
Apple sells products that are exciting in their elegant simplicity. There is no confusion. The positioning in the mind of the consumer is clear. The message is short and crisp.
Each of the Republican hopefuls has yet to take a stand on what he stands for. Each of their messages is a combination of many words (attempting to appeal to the most voters without offending too many others). That's the ultimate compromise and a sure way to not win. Voters stand aside, confused, with over a third saying they are undecided hours before each voting deadline. Everyone knew what Obama stood for ("Change, Yes We Can"), he owned that wording. Perhaps the Republican victor will be able to eventually do the same kind of focused messaging. But until then, voters will continue to scratch their heads.
It has been my experience that serial entrepreneurs quickly figure out what their company should stand for (in less than four words). That is difficult, but is a mark of the grand winners.
Is there something else required for a startup to win? Yes, there sure is!
Serial entrepreneurs tell me there are three Must-Have things your startup requires to win:
- Products that "WOW!" your customers. Exhilarating substance, not boring fluff.
- Execution with excellence. Doing your plan brilliantly.
- Moving target that keeps competition behind.
Products that are okay, but not exciting, produce Number 2 (Chimpanzee) companies and start a slippery decent into the group of a dozen starving Monkeys. Gorilla status requires products that get the end user highly emotional, eager, compellingly driven to get their hands on those products (Riots at the Apple store in Beijing). Startups with me-too products ("better, quicker, cheaper") cannot become great winners.
Execution by your company must deliver everything on time, well done, month after month after month. If you err, you end up losing your momentum. Lululemon missed executing inventory deliveries, angered customers, and their stock was crushed. Apple has continued to deliver with brilliance, in spite of wildly unexpected demand by consumers for phones, pads and computers. Startups must do the same, under even more challenging circumstances.
Once a Gorilla of a new market, the leader must keep up the momentum with more great product inventions and continued, amazing, execution. That moving target makes competitors cry, unable to leap over and take the lead. RIM failed to do that with its Blackberry. Apple leaped over and never looked back. Android phone suppliers (Number 2, or Chimpanzee status) are running at feverish levels to just keep closely behind Apple's constantly changing leadership position.
The above Four Must-Haves are required, but are not sufficient to ensure startup success. You have to have one more thing to win:
Number One is "You have to stand for something" to win.
A clear, short message about what your startup stands for is what end users are seeking. That is the foundation on which all else is built. Then your WOW! products become branded, never to be forgotten by end users. Your execution is appreciated by customers, reinforcing your growing position as The Leader of the new market. Your ever changing, constant innovation leaves your competition standing (behind) in awe of your startup. Bloggers spread your message around the globe (at no cost to you.)
That is what marketing is about in this new era. It is mandatory for startups.
Done well, you are shooting a rifle at a clear target.
Done poorly, you are shooting a shotgun in a circular firing squad.
BOTTOM LINE: Serial entrepreneurs figure out swiftly what their new enterprises should stand for. They deliver fresh products/services with quality and timeliness appreciated by customers. Further innovation surprises competitors, leaving them continually behind. That's power marketing. That's the basis for building your unfair competitive advantage. Veteran entrepreneurs do it all the time. You can do the same.
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!