The Startup Owner’s Manual—Part 8—The Deadly Sin of Emphasizing Execution

Emphasizing Execution is a deadly sin? Seriously? One of my favorite business books of all time is Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. Nevertheless, in Steve Blank and Bob Dorf’s The Startup Owner’s Manualthe authors assert that the 3rd deadly sin is “Emphasis on Execution Instead of Hypotheses, Testing, Learning, and Iteration” (11).

And there it is again—a startup is not a small version of a big company. In a big company, execution is (almost) everything. In a startup, you are trying to figure out what to execute, so you must develop hypotheses, test them, learn from your tests, and iterate or pivot based on what you’ve learned.

I have a friend who is starting a very promising business (I’ll tell you more about it soon). He’s got a great concept, and it looks like he is going to be able to help a lot of people. But what he has now is a hypothesis, which he is testing, and he is learning/growing as he goes. Instead of building a “go-to-market” solution before introducing it to the world, he is testing, talking to potential customers, finding out what they really want, what they really need, and what they would be willing to pay for. Based on the conversations he is having, the tests he is performing, he is tweaking his offering, dialing it in.

If you’re an entrepreneur, that’s your job. “If you build it, they will come,” makes an awesome movie but it’s a terrible startup strategy. Emphasizing execution in the real world usually looks like building a baseball diamond in the middle of a corn field, then losing your farm.

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams

Are Business Lies Really Lies?—Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and Me

I’m a terrible liar. Despite my best efforts, I suck at it. I am really good at keeping quiet, so if I don’t want to spill the beans I usually just don’t say anything. But if I try to deceive with words, my lies come out all mumbly.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

For many reasons, that’s usually a good thing. I would probably be in trouble a lot more often if I were any good at lying.

Is this always a good thing, though? I don’t know. In The Art of War Sun Tzu says “All warfare is based on deception…. When capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.” He goes on from there, but you get the gist. The Art of War is inextricably bound to the Art of Deception.

That’s tough for me. I would probably be richer if I was good at deception. But then maybe I wouldn’t like myself that much. And maybe, in the end, that’s more important to me. Somedays I like to think it is.

What do you think? Does this part of The Art of War resonate with you? Repulse you? It’s easy to say self-righteously, “Of course I wouldn’t deceive anyone.” And I am not arguing that you should deceive the customer. But what about your competitor? What if winning the business is on the line?

Thinking About Starting a Business? Starting Up or Starting New

Questions about Starting a New Business

Image courtesy of Master /

Starting a business is exhilarating and daunting at the same time. So much to think about and so much to do! It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement until the excitement feels like overwhelm. When that happens (and it will), we go searching for answers.

When I started my first business (with a guy who knew even less about business than I did), I would have given anything for a checklist, a hint, a mentor or a clue. I didn’t have any of that, but that was 14 years ago. Today, thanks to the internet, there are way too many checklists, hints, and clues. It’s downright paralyzing.

On the other hand, there are a lack of good mentors for startup owners, which is why I want to be that person for other brave entrepreneurial souls. Instead of thrashing all over the internet searching for magical websites that have (almost) all of the answers, I am able to guide my clients to the straightforward resources and processes that work without the needless distractions.

In order to find those resources and processes, I’ve spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars, read thousands of articles and more than a thousand business books. I’ve also started and run several companies and learned the priceless lessons of those experiences (which I think of sometimes as battles, sometimes as games). I am going to blog through some of the works that have had the biggest impact on me and my businesses and share insights I’ve learned along the way.

For the next little bit, I will be blogging through some of my favorite resources. There will be lots of opportunities to dig into the nitty gritty, but today I would like to mention just a few.

Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid. No one I have ever met or read gets sales and marketing, especially for service professionals, as well as Michael does. When I first read his Book Yourself Solid, I was stunned at how simple he made everything. As simple as it could be but not simpler, as the expression goes. It impressed me so much, I read his other books. Then I started to participate in his group calls. Then I signed up to begin the process of becoming a certified Book Yourself Solid coach. The information was/is great, and Michael and his colleagues turned out to be even more warm and helpful in person than I could have imagined. I am reembarking on that training now, after a long hiatus, and I am looking forward to learning and sharing what I learn. In addition to reading my blog, though, I encourage you to pick up Michael’s Book Yourself Solid Illustrated. 

Steve Blank’s The Startup Owner’s Manual. As much as Michael understands the ins and outs of sales and marketing, Steve understands the process of starting a company. As long as I have been reading business books, blogs, journals, magazines, etc., the “experts” have been treating startups like they were small versions of big companies. They aren’t. Not even close. And if you don’t know that, you are in for a dreadful surprise as you try to adapt established-company strategies and tactics to your startup. This, more than anything else I have seen, gets new entrepreneurs in trouble. I will be exploring the process for starting a new business through this blog, but I encourage you to consider purchasing Steve’s The Startup Owner’s Manual.

Michael E. Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited. It was the first great business book I read, and it changed the way I thought about my business. By now many of the principles in Gerber’s classic are well-known—”Work on your business, not in your business” is a phrase all entrepreneurs throw around these days. But do we do it? And how do we do it? As I blog through the E-Myth system, we’ll be exploring Gerber’s specific advice for how we can go from “technicians suffering from an Entrepreneurial Seizure” to true entrepreneurs.

Those are three business-changing and therefore life-changing books, a good place to start.

If you have a question about starting a new business and don’t want to wait until I am done blogging through all of these books to see if I answer it, feel free to send me an email. I know how scary it can be not to have anyone to ask when you have a question, and I am happy to help if I can.

Also, I should mention that pretty much all of the links on my blog will be affiliate links, so I can make some fat stacks while blogging. If that bothers you, feel free to not click on the link. And if you buy something I recommend and hate it, let me know. I might want to buy whatever it is you bought from you. I am only going to recommend things that I myself have bought/used/loved while starting a business or helping someone else start theirs.

See you tomorrow.