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Alignment, Focus & Business Success

How startup teams undermine their own success

I’ve worked in early-stage product teams for a number of years now, and observed the different factors that seemingly contribute to the success or failure of different ventures.

And one of those factors I have commonly observed, which is also backed up by the data on this subject, is a lack of focus.

Of teams trying too many things, or trying to optimise for too many metrics, of one team pulling in one direction and another team in the other.

Diffuse effort = wasted effort.

Because, without one clear goal, and one clear direction to move towards, we end up serving a turn here, another there, dipping our toe into a new idea, but never fully committing enough time or resources to really understand whether it can work or not — instead, we are sometimes left with the inaccurate assumption that the idea was the problem, rather than the fact we never explored it & validated enough to really know.

Lack of clarity. Lack of structure. Competing goals. Conflict between how to assign resources. No one key metric. No one clear statement of strategic intent.

All the signs of a poorly aligned team, and, therefore, a team wasting the vast majority of its efforts.

So, what should you do about it, if you look at the list above and far too many of those points apply to your team?

You focus.

Focus on One Metric

You sit down with your team — or leadership team, depending on the size — and you agree upon one key metric that every effort in the company can be driven towards.

At Scribe, that means reaching “125 app subscribers”, so we can accurately validate the fact we are building a product that delivers value to our customers — enough that they are willing to pay for it — as well as value for our business, so we become profitable enough to run the business full-time.

At your company, that means carefully selecting a metric that everything else can contribute to. Say you run a marketplace, is it the customer buying the products, or the seller that is key to your business?

Agree upon a metric, but carefully think it through, as remember your entire team will be directing their resources towards this metric. Be careful to avoid teams taking shortcuts, for example, by delivering “100 new users” through unsustainable paid advertising, or simple free trials or 3-months-off offers.

And once you have agreed upon a metric, work out how to sub-divide your team to help you achieve it.

Form Squads

Consider forming squads, cross-functional teams focused on a common goal, not their function or area of expertise.

Build a customer acquisition squad, with your marketing lead, a developer, a content writer, and a data specialist.

Build a retention squad, with a product manager, a few developers, a UX designer, and a content writer, for example.

Focus your team ruthlessly on the whole team’s goal, as well as a sub-goal for them to achieve.

If the company’s goal is “reach 1,000 paying customers”, for example, maybe your retention squad’s sub-goal is “retain a new customer by Day 5, so we can convert 50% of them to paying customers”.

Not only does this focus your team, but it also liberates them.

It provides them a clear direction to head in, a clear way to measure success, a clear way to determine what to prioritise and what should be simply disregarded.

It allows them to innovate, to take ownership of their work, to make your company’s success their own success.

It makes them, in short, create massive value for your customer and, ultimately, for your business.

So if you find yourselves unfocused, then focus.

If you find your team lacking direction, then sit down & create a common direction.

It could be the difference between success & failure.

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