High growth anatomy: your startup’s dna

Remember the conversation that Alice had with the Cheshire cat?  Alice didn’t have a clear idea of where she wanted to go, or where she wanted to be, and asked the Cheshire cat Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here? The Cheshire cat responded You’re sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough.

This is often a question startup founders find themselves asking. Seeking to increase customers, they experiment with strategies aiming for straight-up, hockey-stick growth. Few startup ideas are perfect right out of the gate. That’s why it’s important to recognise when you might need a course correction and iteration in your idea, pitch, product or execution, but you need a clear sense of direction as a route map.

From performance metrics and market feedback, to the general mood of the team, there are several signs entrepreneurs should assess when deciding whether to stay the course or head in a new direction.

For many startups, knowing when to pivot can be more important than having the perfect idea from the start. Ideas are cheap, but execution is hard. As you listen to customers and their experience of your product, it’s not uncommon to have to consider that you may not have nailed it on the first go, and be open-minded to a pivot.

Often it’s about standing back. Whilst the customer metrics may be encouraging, the best startups make a distinction by applying a bigger-picture, strategic perspective to the detailed performance metrics they developed on their dashboard, such as unique customers and engagement.

It’s not about having failed to get in front of potential users, it’s often that the value proposition doesn’t resonate enough with the target audience to generate sufficient interest for regular, repeat users.

Understanding your sales cycle is also important to assessing whether you are on the right track. You should know whether the sales cycle for your target customers is four to six months, or whether sales typically come in the form of a quick ‘yes or no’ in four to six weeks. If you’re finding that you’re not getting that within the sector time frames, that’s a pretty good red flag that you’re going to get kicked into the cold water of reality.

However. Amazon was not the first online bookseller. Google was the 21st search engine to launch. eBay was not the first auction site. They just did it better than their predecessors. So if you are in the trough of despondency, maybe there is a re-think as an alternative to simply throwing in the towel.

Having arrived at the check-in desk with bags filled with uncertainty and self-doubt, from Uber to Zoopla, every ambitious startup reaches a point where they have to reflect and figure out what to do next, and in what direction to grow, and which door to storm through. Sustained growth is achieved by not only having a key, but picking the right door to go through.

Even startups equipped with staff with solid experience and track records can come unstuck. Boots on the ground are an imperative, and while the short-term turbulence may seem unappealing, even hazardous, making the right decision now cannot be understated. It’s not an issue of not knowing ‘where to?’ and ‘what’s next?’, it’s knowing how to make the decision and what questions to ask to decide between the choices.

Research highlights that 50% of startups fail, and those that survive typically only realise about 60% of their potential value – because of defects and breakdowns in execution. It’s a fault in their dna, vision without execution is hallucination! Fortunately, unlike biological dna, startup dna can be reengineered by the purposeful rewiring of the genes making up the core of the startup model.

Let’s assume you’ve achieved customer validation and a business model shaped. You’re sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough simply isn’t the answer now. Based on research, intuition and my own experience, you need to build what I call your High Growth Anatomy, a blueprint of your dna. This is what makes you unique, gives a scalable and innovative business model, and provides an effective route map for the direction of growth.

Here’s a list of fourteen ‘dna’ elements you need in your High Growth Anatomy, to give clarity on your future direction, readiness and potential to be a high growth business at the pivot. They are structured as to ‘Go’ and ‘No Go’. Evaluate yourself, what’s your ‘Good To Go’ score?

Foresight or Hallucination?

  • We have clear and articulated goals based on our purpose, of where we want to be in the next 6, 12, 18 and 24 months;
  • We have some thoughts on where we are aiming to be, but it’s more of a wish list than a ‘lets make it happen’ plan.

Front-foot or Back-foot?

  • As a team we are moving forward all of the time;
  • As a team we are fire-fighting most of the time.

Clued-up or Clueless?

  • We are clear about how we make a difference in our market;
  • We are unclear about how to get ahead in our market.

Dexterous or Clumsy?

  • We are agile in our business, we can ‘seize’ the moment with alacrity;
  • We are quite blundering, unable to move quickly.

Leaning-forward or Leaning-back?

  • We are restless thinkers, learning, imaging the future, eager to grow;
  • We are thinking about our future, but focused on today really.

Web-enabled or Webbed-feet?

  • We have a clearly articulated digital strategy in our business model;
  • We use the Internet and social media, but have no digital vision.

Harmonious or Mutinous?

  • We are all wearing the same jersey, pushing together in the same direction, one heart and one voice;
  • We’re a collection of tribes and opinions, connected but not united.

Curious or Cautious?

  • We develop lots of new things, some of them work, some don’t, but we’re always ready to experiment;
  • We generally keep trying things until they don’t work, then think of something new to have a go at.

Heads-up or Head-down?

  • When faced with a threat we respond rapidly and decisively;
  • When faced with a threat, we often step back and wheel-spin.

Fresh thinkers or Copy cats?

  • We are creative and restless, innovation is a core behaviour;
  • We don’t have a point of difference in our business model.

Stickability or Bendability?

  • When something is not going to plan, we reflect, adjust and kick on with renewed enthusiasm;
  • When initiatives do not work, we tend to give up and go back to what we know.

Kinship or Coldfish?

  • We actively pay attention to building our culture, values and spirit;
  • We do not pay attention to our internal culture – it just happens.

Connectivity or Disconnected?

  • We are hot wired, we’re all linked-in and linked-up;
  • Our organisation is not well co-ordinated – we’re disconnected and decoupled.

Insights or Blindspots?

  • We have a very good knowledge of our customers, their customers and our competitors;
  • We have an ad-hoc knowledge of our customers, their customers and our competitors.

High Growth Anatomy is a simple set of questions to ask yourself, share, listen, reflect and learn as a team, about your ‘startup dna’. Startups have to create their futures, things don’t just happen. You’re sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough isn’t the answer. Hope isn’t a strategy. It’s about strategic readiness and agility, clarity, direction and velocity and then execution. Have you got these in your dna?