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Startup Founders Often Talk About “Great Execution.” These 4 Questions Will Help You Determine Whether You’re On The Right Track

Peter Swaniker

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“Great execution” is a common phrase among CEOs and founders—but it’s also a vague one.

In reality, most company leaders don’t know what it is, or how to achieve it. Instead, they use it as a buzzword to ensure people, “We’re doing great. We’re getting a lot done.” 

Unfortunately, great execution isn’t synonymous with staying busy. 

When you’re the founder of a startup, you wear a lot of hats and you put out a lot of fires. It’s easy to get distracted or caught up on the entrepreneurial hamster wheel. But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “What have I really achieved today?” 

In theory, any task can have a great execution, but in the world of startups, the only tasks that matter are the ones that are aligned with your “True North”—the core objective of your company. The mission that keeps you inspired. 

It’s all about sharpening your focus. When you achieve results that propel you towards your True North, that’s great execution. Anything else is wasted effort. And if you want to ensure you’re headed in the right direction, these are the questions to ask yourself: 

1. Do you have the right people on your team? 

Your employees have the potential to make or break your company. They’re the ones at the ground level, and they dictate what actually gets done. 

Studies show that mission-driven companies are much more likely to have engaged workers, but unfortunately, only 40 percent of employees are familiar with their company’s core objectives. 

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to make your True North known to everyone within the company. It’s also imperative that you take your time with the hiring process so you can find smart, capable people who resonate with your mission. Ensure that all employees—both current and future—have the same laser-sharp focus as you, because that cultivates great execution.

Also, keep in mind that the people and processes at a $1-million company will look entirely different than those at a $20-million company. Make sure that as you’re growing, they’re growing accordingly. You’re implementing the right people at each stage, so they can encourage expansion in the right direction. 

2. Are you paying attention to your finances? 

As a startup, money management is imperative. You likely have just enough resources to get you off the ground, so if you’re wasting them on unnecessary expenses, your company could die in the water. 

Even if you’re lucky enough to earn tons of money from the beginning—maybe your product went viral and you’re growing at record speed—poor financial planning is dangerous. Money tends to hide the mistakes you’re making, and you may waste most of it before you realize you’re on the wrong track. You’ll get much further if you stay disciplined and make sure you’re spending efficiently. 

The secret? Return to your True North and pinpoint the goals that will help fuel you towards it. Then prioritize those goals above all others. Invest in the projects that matter, and cut spending everywhere else. 

If it’s not aligned, it’s likely excess, and you don’t need it.

3. Are you moving your product forward? 

It’s easy to get distracted by new, shiny technology or customers asking you for different features, but avoid those temptations at all costs. Even in the public markets, the companies that end up failing are often the ones that expand too quickly and in too many directions. They lose track of their initial purpose. 

Avoid becoming the Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Learn to say “No” to side-projects, so you can focus on the one thing you do really well. 

At my company Ximble, this is a lesson we had to learn first-hand. We make employee scheduling software, and especially in the beginning, we were tempted to expand to other areas like HR and onboarding. We even started building a few programs, but at the end of the day, there was too much competition—and those projects didn’t align with our True North. We ended up scrapping them, and it was a waste of time, money, and effort. 

4. Are your customers happy? 

So many companies pay lip service to customer satisfaction, but very few have systems in place to ensure it. 

If you want happy customers, you have to hold your team accountable. 

Set concrete goals for customer satisfaction, and actually monitor your feedback. Put customer success metrics in place and use KPIs to measure how well you’re actually performing. 

That way, when you decide, “I want a 90% customer satisfaction rate from my support department,” you have real data to reference every single week. You can make sure you’re moving in the right direction, rather than course-correcting six months down the line. 

In fact, that’s the secret to great execution in any category: setting your True North from the very beginning, so you always know which goals and decisions will help get you there.

Founder & CEO of Ximble. Passionate about technology and entrepreneurship.

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