The Folly of Great Advice Misapplied
Use strategic advice tactically.
Once Upon a Pitch Problem #18
“Is that what you want to build?” I asked with my face screwed up. “What do you mean?” asked one founder. “What do I mean?” I said incredulously. “What do you mean? When we first met, you said you were both all-in on solving that one big, hard customer problem. You described the problem in excruciating detail, you spoke with energetic animation, you piled a mountain of data on my head on market size, and you gushed.” Rolling with a head of steam, I continued, “Now, you are talking about a different product, with zero enthusiasm, and I can feel how much you don’t care about this new problem or product.” Confronted, the founders admitted they didn’t care about the new idea to the passion-sparking level of their original idea. “What happened?”
Apply great advice precisely. We all receive great advice. On a run last week while listening to the audiobook Freefall: Expeditionary Force Mavericks, Book 2, by Craig Alanson, read by R.C. Bray, the warrior lizard-alien Kristang Admiral Kekrando of the Swift Arrow Clan growled real world advice I needed: “When presented with only one good option, you can agonize about it or accept the situation and get on with the task. Only the weak minded waste time and energy in wishing reality were different.” Sometimes I get inefficient lamenting circumstances so this tactical advice is great for my strategy of being present, in motion, towards the future. Consoling an emotionally suffering friend by calling them weak minded, however, is a terrible tactic for my strategy of being supportive. Here, the founders explained that at their pitch practice session as part of a premier accelerator, a respected business mentor spoke forcefully about a potentially bigger adjacent market for a different solution. The founders took that great advice (a tip about a large market within their industry ecosystem) and applied it, unsparingly, to the wrong problem (their product-market match). This misapplication was nearly fatal. After our conversation, the founders reset, applying the advice precisely to the right problem (adjacent market activities), and crafted a new, more valuable go-to-market plan to serve their market and many adjacent markets, creating an even larger enterprise value proposition. Thoughtfully and carefully apply great advice to the right problem, not every problem.
“And every day . . ..” You will always receive great advice about bigger problems, harder problems, different problems, future problems, systemic problems, and problems with all of those problems. Keeping your eye on your customer problem is your problem; changing your customer problem altogether because someone else thinks you should is not your problem. If the problem you want to solve has a large enough market to support your ambitions (see Newsletter #6, Solution 2, for VC investment math), solve that problem then look at that great advice to find the next problem to solve. Founders are natural problem solvers drawn to the unsolved. Solve your customers’ problem with the aid of that great advice; don’t solve your advisors’ problems.
Beachheads, not continental shelves. Talented advisors are going to immediately build upon your idea, offering up new features, new customers, new distribution models, and new applications. If you action all that great advice, you will build a slow moving, over-engineered, no longer product-market matched, never sold failure (aka Juicero). Sweeping advice can be big and awe-inspiring like a continental shelf (strategy); designing, making and selling that critical first product, though, is small and purposeful like one sand beach in one tiny cove on one coastline (tactics). Great advice is relevant, not revelatory; it should be tactically additive to the strategy, not the strategy. Know the continental shelf boundaries while taking that first beachhead; with success, you will need to determine which beach to take next and knowing where that shelf is will be critical.
What They Said
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. - Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
See You on the Track
Author The First Principles Pitch, startup storyteller, board member, advisor and investor. Once Upon a Pitch is a weekly newsletter looking at one business pitch problem and offering storytelling solutions to help solve that problem. On Demand startup pitch and business coaching now available for May 2023 at Jack Industries.
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