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Sequencing is “make or break” for building a startup

One of the most important things when building a startup is the sequence of how you execute. It is even more important than “doing the right things”.

You need to be laser focused and meticulous on the execution at hand, while driving towards your big vision of your company, and evaluating the plan regularly.

By NOT planning every detail of what needs to happens in the next 12 months, you are increasing your attention span on what is needed right now, while making sure you make the best decisions with as much data as you can at any given point in time.

When you are planning in detail what to do in 6 to 12 months, you are making decisions with a large number of assumptions and little data.

I am saying this so often to our portfolio company founders and the team at BootstrapLabs that it is starting to sound like a mantra:

Have faith in your assumptions, but trust your data.

And sorry – you are not getting away from planning, which is just as important to create a shared vision and understanding of the road ahead within the team. The assumptions are not less important. You just need to understand that they are just assumptions, and when and how they turn into data.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. - Dwight D. Eisenhower

It is actually quite simple. When you launch a new startup, you are always underskilled and underfunded as you start to build, and you need to create a model of how you execute effectively where you are (shameless plug: we are trying to fix that with BootstrapWorks, still stealth – but sign-up for the waitlist!), while keeping your big vision in mind, and constantly reevaluating and changing the focus to adapt to the current situation.

Sequencing is make or break for building a startup.001

For example: You know you are addressing a large market, and your product and DevOps really need to scale. You know that if you hit Milestone C you are going to have a million users of your product. You are now at Milestone A, and the reality is that unless you focus 100% on nailing the core Product Market Fit with your early customers to get to Milestone B, you will neither know what is needed from the platform to scale to a million users, or raise the funding to do so.

Ben Horowitz talk about wartime and peacetime CEOs in his book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”. Using those terms, when you start a new company you need to be in the wartime CEO mode, otherwise you will not survive long enough to fight your first real battle.

All of this applies before finding an initial Product Market Fit and before raising A/B rounds to scale. At that point the same mechanics apply, but both at a larger scale and longer timeframe. And you need to plan for resources much further ahead. But that goes back to the core message of this blog post. You always need to execute and optimize for where you are at any given point in time.

Asian Brand Strategy - Revised and Updated - Martin Roll - 6

Are You Ready To Build Your Start-Up Brand Early?

Today’s guest post is from Martin Roll.

I am often asked when entrepreneurs, start-ups and younger companies should start to build their brands. The implicit impression by those asking is that branding and brands are for later, not in the early stages. I could not disagree more. The earlier you start it, the better chances of scaling and globalizing your brands. People don’t buy products and services, they buy brands.

Building and sustaining brands are not a luxury for entrepreneurs and start-ups, it has become necessity in order to compete in a globalized world where brands play an important role in building strong market positions and driving value.

The emergence of global Asian brands and the bold aspirations by Asian leaders should serve as great inspiration for entrepreneurs and start-ups as illustrated in the following.

The rise of Asian global brands: From “nice to have” to “need to have”

An increasing number of Asian brands are becoming successful well beyond Asia. But with two-thirds of the global population, growing economies, a rapidly growing middle class with an increasing disposable income, Asia still boasts only a handful of powerful global brands which is a cause for concern, and a great untapped opportunity.  But given the size and volume of Asian business today, it is evident that Asia could build many more prominent brands and capture more financial value from better trade power, price premiums, customer loyalty and other important metrics.

Building and sustaining brands are not a luxury for Asian firms any longer, it is a necessity in order to compete in a globalized world where brands play an important role in driving value.

Therefore, in an updated and revised edition of the bestselling book Asian Brand Strategy, I have provided a comprehensive framework for understanding Asian branding strategies and Asian brands, based on new research and supported throughout by a wealth of new case studies from several Asian countries.

Asian Brand Strategy provides insights, knowledge, and perspectives on Asian brands and branding as a strategic tool, and provides a comprehensive framework for understanding Asian branding strategies and Asian brands, including success stories and challenges for future growth and strengths.

Asian Brand Strategy includes theoretical frameworks and models and up-to-date case studies on Asian brands, and I believe it is a must-read for Asian and Western business leaders as well as anyone interested in the most exciting region of the world.

Will Asian companies challenge the global brands?

Several indications show rapid progression in the right direction for a selection of Asian companies where branding as a strategic tool has become more recognized and accepted in their boardrooms. This is also driven by the increasing attention on branding and its value-driving capability among stakeholders, media and opinion makers across Asia.

Asian companies can have great intentions and aspirations to move up the value-chain through branding to capture the financial and competitive benefits, but to achieve these objectives successfully, Asian companies must follow a comprehensive brand strategy framework supported by a systematic process throughout the organization.

Successful implementation of these processes will help Asian boardrooms to better compete in the global marketplace, and in achieving sustainable revenue and cash flow streams for the future.

In my book, I use the Asian Brand Leadership model to illustrate the paradigm shift that Asian brands need to undertake in order to unleash their potential:

First, mindsets and practices need to change in Asian boardrooms. Asian Brand Strategy invites a complete shift in the way that Asian boardrooms think of branding:

  1. From a tactical view to a long-term, strategic perspective
  2. From brands viewed primarily as advertising and promotion to brands as strategic assets
  3. From fragmented marketing activities to totally aligned branding activities linked to business strategy
  4. From a vision of branding as the sole responsibility of marketing managers to branding as the most essential function of the firm led by the CEO, CMO and board room

Second, this new perspective must be grounded in in-depth understanding of consumer behavior patterns. Asia is not a homogeneous entity. More importantly, Asian countries are more and more traversed by cultural flows permeating the region: cinema, music and fashion trends that at present extend beyond national borders to capture the imagination of millions. Branding and brands do not operate in a vacuum; they are closely linked to developments in society, to people and cultures.

Third, managers wanting to succeed in Asia need to abandon the oriental Asia of the past. Asian consumers are all vying for an Asian type of modernity that has nothing to do with colonial imagery.

Fourth, to create iconic brands, Asian managers will have to become trendsetters. The perspective developed in Asian Brand Strategy is that, in order to be successful, Asian brands need to capture the spirit of the region, and lead the way by creating that spirit.

Finally, this shift can be achieved only if everybody in the company is convinced of the power of branding. This, in turn, can only happen through accountability and systematic monitoring of branding investments and performance. Organizations that utilize data-driven decision-making are more productive and profitable than their competitors.


Martin Roll - Business & Brand Strategist - Martin Roll Company - verticalMartin Roll | @MartinRoll

Martin Roll delivers the combined value of an experienced global business strategist, senior advisor and facilitator to Fortune 500 companies, Asian firms, family-owned businesses and start-ups on how to build and manage strong, global brands as well as leadership of high-performing, marketing-oriented businesses. He is very experienced in engaging and advising clients at all management levels from business owners and C-suite leaders to functional staff across multiple industries and cultures. Author of Asian Brand Strategy.

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5 skills founders better verify before deciding to add a core team member

Today’s guest post is from Tommaso Di Bartolo.

Startup is an amazing crazy ride. Unlike corporate business, every moment in startup makes you remember you live because of the thrilling paths and the amount of emotions you experience. The most compelling phase in a startup is the period of time before the product finds its product-market-fit. The time where you think you know what problem you are solving – but the market is not reacting the way you thought and the value you offer still hasn’t been proven out. This occurs usually in the third phase – out of four – of a startup life cycle. It’s the phase where the vision is being squeezed, where getting funded is hard if there isn’t enough traction, where releasing a sexy product is challenging if the right people aren’t on board, and the time where adding the “right core team members” is tough. But what does “the right” people mean in this case? What are the key attributes, skills or even qualifications the handful of key people you’ll call core team members will have?

Once upon a time, there were 3 friends that met at Stanford: a computer science engineer, a design guy and a business grad. During lunch time on a spring afternoon they, all together, came up with an idea, the prototype of which they released short after. They easily got traction and therefore funding from TOP Tier investors on Sand Hill Road. With the money they hired a stunning team, invested in developing a great working product which scaled globally and were acquired only 36 months later for a $1B …

… and then we all woke up … good morning!!!

The startup ride is a very turbulent one and “luckily” not for everybody – otherwise we would have even more competition ;-). Often we read about “overnight” successes – but it only was overnight for those who were not part of the journey… as stories like the one above don’t exist! Nor are most of the startups representing an “A-Team” that have already done it before. More often, early stage startup teams are a bunch of inexperienced hustlers, hackers and hipsters driven by the sentence to “change the world”, and more than 50% of them split up within the first 12 months… that’s where the shit hits the fan. Now, only teams who’ll write the most painful stories actually really make an impact. But what is it they do differently?

Startup Mindset goes over Education

While upcoming entrepreneurs have guidelines on how to build a lean startup or how to build a demand engine for products – there’s a lack of blueprints for how / what to consider to put the right people together, and therefore we underestimate the importance of how much business relies on relationships and their communication. And that behind every “tongue”… there is a mindset that is responsible for letting us do things the way we do… or simply don’t do. Mindset is often the make or break deal, especially in the early days. In other words, the people’s strength of mindset is what at the end makes a startup succeed or die. It’s what makes startup teams keep fighting and finding ways, or give up.

After 15 years of entrepreneurial experiences on three continents and four startups, I’ve learned the hard way that core team members’ soft skills were more important than their educational background. While I’m not saying that education doesn’t matter, make sure specific characteristics within core team players exist, especially during the initial delicate phase where things are not settled.

The biggest “bug” in an early stage startup is a “mismatched mindset” – Tommaso db

Watch out for genes – not qualifications

There’s a difference between the way you recruit a CFO for when you are scaling business and between “handpicking” a Senior Backend Engineer for an early stage startup. For the CFO you mainly consider qualifications, experiences and assure yourself with reference checks. For the Senior Backend Engineer the story is quite different. In an early stage startup it might be the case that you do have an MVP – but still not enough traction to prove assumptions and enchant with business success. Or – like in many early stage startups – you don’t have deep pockets and sweat equity is the compensation model to go to.

Even though on one hand your funds might be low and the pressure to move ahead with product development is high, you better make sure the person you decide to add as a core team member qualifies mindset-wise – before you match educational skills. This helps you avoid investing time and creating expectations with a candidate that sooner or later might leave if their mindset simply doesn’t fit. Don’t let circumstances hurry you on everything you are doing or pressure your decisions.

Don’t delude yourself because of an educational background or due to lack of options  – but seek for genes that are crazy enough to go through the real side of your daily business.

…continue reading “5 skills founders better verify before deciding to add a core team member” on Tommaso’s blog WhatItTakes


tommasoTommaso Di Bartolo | @todiba

Expert in Residence, BootstrapLabs and CEO at swaaag.

Tommaso is a serial-entrepreneur with 2 exits, an advisor & an angel investor. He lives with his family in Silicon Valley.