Move fast: it’s your biggest competitive advantage

By boris, March 08, 2016

Last week I attended the NFX demo day.  For me, it is one of the most fun demo days to attend as NFX, like Version One, focuses on network effect businesses, particularly marketplaces and social platforms.

During the day, NFX partners shared their insights from having worked with dozens of businesses over the first 2 cohorts and one of the most interesting takeaways was hearing about how they try to help companies move faster.

As a startup, moving fast is probably THE biggest competitive advantage you have.

Large companies may have a huge budget, name recognition, and customer base, but they’re also slow.

Facebook, arguably one of the most successful companies of all times, had the famous motto, “move fast and break things.” They kept this mantra for a very long period of time, until they felt compelled to switch over to “Move fast with stable infra.”

But the question is, if the ability to move quickly is your key advantage, what can you do to move faster?

1. Be ruthless about prioritization

In order to move fast, you can only work on the things that truly matter. Be ruthless about prioritizing and chop out everything that doesn’t make the cut. Some startups incorporate prioritization activities into their daily routine. At the start of the day, every day, each team member should know exactly what their goals are for the day, and how they fit into the team’s weekly/big picture goals.

Of course, the clearer you are about your vision, business model, and key drivers, the easier it will be to prioritize.

2. Shorten the product release cycle

In the very early stages, you should be shipping product as fast as possible, potentially even daily. Remember that many small steps are better than one mega launch. Ship the simplest and smallest thing (that adds value to your users). You’ll get a better sense of what works, what’s important, and what’s not.

3. Remove the bottlenecks

Everything moves faster when people don’t have to wait around for other people. Internal APIs help in a big way to decouple teams, giving each team ownership over everything it builds. As Bezos pushed Amazon to do, every internal product should have an API, just as if it were developed for an external client. Then, teams don’t need permission to do something, and they don’t have to wait to get the okay before touching code.

4. Do you know what moving fast actually means?

It’s important to know where you stand. If you have only worked at big companies or startups with a ‘big company’ culture, you might not completely understand what ‘moving fast’ actually means.

The bottom line is that speed and agility are the biggest advantages you have at the beginning. You’re only going to get slower as you scale up, so make sure you start out at the fastest speed you possibly can.

  • CauseSquare

    I appreciate the insight. Moving fast, beyond a certain acceptable threshold, might actually backfire in early stages (especially the first 18 months). If moving fast means to put growth a head of taking care of your customers and listening to them then moving fast in this case is self destructing. I think the first year of any tech startup should be spent as close as possible to customers as well as search for the OPTIMUM product-market fit (there are local maximas that could be mistaken for the optimum one).

  • bwertz

    agreed – but moving fast doesn’t necessarily mean only focusing on growth. In the early stages, moving fast means getting to product-market-fit and talk to many customers as quickly as possible and run as many experiments as possible.

  • CauseSquare

    Agreed and thanks for clarifying.

  • Great tips on moving fast. From my experience, another big factor in doing it successfully is by surrounding yourself with people who are in the habit of acting fast (and comfortable making the tradeoffs necessary to do so). Conversely, this means not hiring people who aren’t. As you implied, big companies often have a slower, risk-averse mentality, which doesn’t translate well to startups.

  • bwertz

    great point!

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