Oct 202011

Outrunning the Bear

Outrunning the Bear

Did you ever hear the joke about outrunning the bear?  It goes something like this:

Two friends are in the woods, having a picnic.  They spot a bear running at them.  One friend gets up and starts running away from the bear.  The other friend opens his backpack, takes out his running shoes, changes out of his hiking boots, and starts stretching.

“Are you crazy?” the first friend shouts, looking over his shoulder as the bear closes in on his friend.  “You can’t outrun a bear!”

“I don’t have to outrun the bear,” said the second friend.  “I only have to outrun you.”

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in doing something absolutely well as opposed to relatively well.  We were in a situation once with a competitor where our mantra was to win all the available customers for a particular product.  Then we realized one day — we didn’t have to win all of the customers that minute, or even that year.  All we had to do was win every account that the competitor was going after to win the battle at hand.  Once the battle at hand was won, it was then time to go back and figure out how to win the war.

Filed under: Business, Entrepreneurship


Sep 072011

Why I Love My Board, Part III

Why I Love My Board, Part III

My prophesy is starting to come true.  In Part I of this series four years ago, I asserted that

Fred may be the only one of my directors who has done something this dorky, this publicly, but quite frankly, I could see any of us in the same position.

Now, Brad Feld is no shrinking violet.  As far as I’m concerned, he made his film debut in the memorable “Munch on Your Bones” video (short, worth a watch if you’re a Feld groupie) something like 6 or 7 years ago for an all-hands meeting I ran.  But his newest short feature film, “I’m a VC,” made with his three partners, Jason, Ryan, and Seth, is a must-see for anyone in the entrepreneur-VC set and puts him up there with Fred in the pantheon of “this dorky, this publicly.”

Nov 022010

Playing Offense vs. Playing Defense

Playing Offense vs. Playing Defense

I hate playing defense in business.  It doesn’t happen all the time.  But being behind a competitor in terms of feature development, scrambling to do custom work for a large client, or doing an acquisition because you’re getting blocked out of an emerging space – whatever it is, it just feels rotten when it comes up.  It’s someone else dictating your strategy, tactics, and resource allocation; their agenda, not yours.  It’s a scramble.  And when the work is done, it’s hard to feel great about it, even if it’s required and well done.  That said, sometimes you don’t have a choice and have to play defense.

Playing offense, of course, is what it’s all about.  Your terms, your timetable, your innovation or opportunity creation, your smile knowing you’re leading the industry and making others course correct or play catch-up.

This topic of playing defense has come up a few times lately, both at Return Path and at other companies I advise, and my conclusion (other than that “sometimes you just have to bite the bullet”) is that the best thing you can do when you’re behind is to turn a situation from defense into a combination of defense and offense and change the game a little bit.  Here are a few examples:

  • You’re about to lose a big customer unless you develop a bunch of custom features ASAP –> use that work as prototype to a broader deployment of the new features across your product set.  Example:  Rumor has it that Groupware was started as a series of custom projects Lotus was doing for one of its big installations of Notes
  • Your competitor introduces new sub-features that are of the “arms race” nature (more, more, more!) –> instead of working to get to parity, add new functionality that changes the value proposition of the whole feature set.  Example:  Google Docs doesn’t need to match Microsoft Office feature for feature, as its value proposition is about the cloud
  • Your accounting software blows up.  Ugh.  What a pain to have to redo internal system like that – a total time sink.  Use the opportunity to shift from a new version of the same old school installed package you used to run, with dedicated hardware, database, and support costs to a new, sleek, lightweight on-demand package that saves you time and money in the long run

I guess the old adage is true:  The best defense IS, in fact, a good offense.

Filed under: Business, Strategy

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