Getting a million little things right

By Yoli Chisholm
Part of the mythology around startups is this notion of speed, being unemcumbered by process, of course “failing fast” which depending on who is telling the story – translates to flying by the seat of your pants aka building the plane while flying it aka winging it.

Last year I wrote a book called “Crushing Corporate” and the basic premise was that the startup failure rate was appalling and my hypothesis was that not enough startups have the benefit that comes with corporate experience which according to me translates to – boring proven business systems, pragmatic strategy and data driven decision making.

Having toggled between the Enterprise and Startup world throughout my career I remain resolute in my belief that the reason that companies like Microsoft continue to survive despite the 1 or 2 or 3 sexy things that they missed… they survive because of the millions of little things that they get right every day. The thousands of corrections they make every day. The machinations of operating a sustainable business is not the kind of work that makes for great story telling. And although I’m a marketer for me the heroines and heros are not the Zuckerbergs but the operators like Sandberg, not the Brin’s but the Schmidt’s – the operators… the boring grown ups at the table who make sure the house is built on solid ground. I’m not sure where I first heard the analogy I think it may have been Kiyosaki who basically explains what I’m inelegantly trying to say this way. He asks – “How many of you believe you could make a better burger than McDonald’s?” Most people believe they could design a better burger. He then goes on to ask then “Why aren’t there 1000’s of other burger businesses more successful than McDonalds out there. It’s because what you need alongside good design/ good product is superior business systems – operations. The unsexy unsung hero’s of great enterprises is what so often is maligned as the fat of businesses…. try getting your business to 5 years or having your startup get to 10 years on a great idea or good design alone. How many Unicorns have we seen blow zillions of dollars or be taken down by management that lacked the foresight to have seasoned operators onboard or the infrastructure, policies and processes that for the most part have been proven to be necessary to ensure a business can stand the test of time?

The trouble with working on getting a million things right every day is it’s humbling, grinding, painful work of scrutinizing your business everyday and letting the data do the talking. Typically the early people on a Startup are the big picture visionaries, the larger than life figures who rightly captivate our imagination and stir up excitement to build and bring an idea to life… we all have that person inside of us…some of us more so than others. But how do we ensure we are listening to that pragmatic voice or person on the team or ensuring we have a person on the team who has been through the drill of managing operations on the team …has seen the patterns before and can recognize the signals. The nuance and tough thing to explain is that most people rarely ever get to set up an operation from scratch every corporate professional has had that thought when dealing with legacy systems in a huge organization… “Man if I had the opportunity to do it from scratch I would do this or that… sometimes these are the things that can make the difference between conversion rates that are off the chart… and the failure of a business. Seasoned professionals would be able to have this opportunity at Startups. But who wants to have someone who is always talking about meetings, lists, documentation, processes, tracking and measuring stuff when you are trying to change the world?

My natural inclination personally is as a big picture thinker who does not sweat the details but have come to have an appreciation for longevity. In studying companies and being curious about why so many fail and how it is that some literally can survive for generations. They can switch CEO’s, they can pivot business models, they can change branding and positioning to match the times, they can weather down times in the economy, they can weather no longer being the darling or shiny penny… how do they do it for decades and decades? The machine, the operations, the system that ensures a million things get done right every day. I am fascinated by by companies that have become the butt of jokes like Kodak and GE… and others like Colgate, Dupont, Jim Beam that are literally 100’s of years old. On the flip side I am also fascinated by companies like Uber and Facebook who are facing the kinds of tests that will really determine whether they have got the kind of resilience that it takes to get to 30, 40, 50 years old let alone 20 years. I’m learning as I am part of a team that is nurturing a young business to life that the truth is somewhere in between the Crockpot and the Microwave. What kind of leader am I going to shape up to be? Am I lovingly basting, seasoning and taste testing this meal I’m serving up for my target market or am I going to ascribe to a magical Unicorn formula and press start. Will it be a meteoric rise for us or will it be a million things we have to get right?

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As the Marketer and Speaker - Yoli is available for Keynotes, panel discussions, podcasts, interviews, guest appearances and more on Modern Marketing, Digital Transformation and the impact of technology in marketing performance management.

As the Author - Yoli talks to women, young people and professionals about navigating the corporate world with intention.

As the Advisor - Yoli is interested in Advisory roles for Technology businesses BtoC and BtoB where she can provide guidance on growth and go to market strategies.

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