I can’t tell you how many times, when my cofounder or I would say “I got this,” we’d end up eating those words.
Obviously, it’s important for people in a start-up to be able to divide and conquer… but to a point. Because a start-up is already operating with too few people, dividing the team up further only exacerbates the start-up’s problem.
To win, a start-up shouldn’t split its brains, but unite them, so it can bring massively better thinking to every problem than the (better resourced) competition.
The analogy I think of is a basketball team: a superstar working alone won’t win consistently, because the defense is always five people strong. It takes a team! History is filled with examples of teams coming together to beat singular superstars. LeBron James may be great, but he’s been beaten 4 of the 7 times he’s made it to the NBA Finals… whereas Michael Jordan, who had Pippen at his side, went 6-for-6.
So my cofounder and I rejected it when one or the other of us would casually say, “I got this” We forced ourselves to work together—even when the benefits of teamwork weren’t immediately clear—to ensure that we used made the best decision every time.
It was slower this way, for sure, but it kept us laser focused, made sure that everything we did was 100% defensible, and let us move as one—all assets we used daily to punch way above our weight class, build a brand that people regularly assumed had 50 or more people behind it, and win enviable business opportunities.
I walked into Brand Amper under the false belief that execution always and exclusively followed strategy. It doesn’t. In a new thing—before structure and processes and expertise and buying habits and competitive threats are set—the relationship between strategy and execution is much more fluid. Getting execution details right is critical; the unintended consequences of sloppy execution can wreak havoc on the strategic plan.
So one smart thing a start up can do to gain an edge over its competition is to put cross-functional teams on every decision. Like the old adage goes:
To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.
They say the devil is in the details, and from this experience, I’ve learned that’s true. I’ve also learned that I’m not interested in facing the devil alone if I don’t have to. When executing, if you can, skip the “I got this” and bring a partner.