Business modelsStartup general interest

Better to have B-Level Strategy but A-Level Execution

By April 1, 2009 3 Comments

Social media strategy consultant Ravit Lichtenberg has a great post on ReadWriteWeb today about Facebook’s strategy and execution challenges.  The whole post is well worth a read if you are a Facebook watcher or run your own social media site as there are lots of great reminders and simple lessons in there for us all.

I’m going to bring out two things, the first of which is important enough that I’ve put it as the title for this post:

Better to Have B-Level Strategy but A-Level Execution

This is a truism that applies to all startups in all segments and is easy to forget.  Execution issues are tough to fix, often requiring hard and boring work and difficult conversations.  Strategy sessions by contrast are fun and make us all feel like important business execs.  Plus they come with the added benefit of dream value or the ‘maybe we will find a silver bullet’ variety.  Moreover executing well on a second rate strategy will yield much better results than executing poorly on an A+ strategy – just look at the number of second rate products that have achieved market dominance by being better at sales and marketing.

The second passage I want to bring out from Ravit’s post is two of the pieces of advice she gives to Facebook:

  1. Seal those gaps. This is a tough one for most people, more so for companies. It means pulling up the curtains, going from room to room, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It also means sitting down and devising a strategy to address all those gaps in a way that enhances the business while not hindering its operation. Not an easy task, but crucial for growth.
  2. Stay honest. Stating that public-figure pages are good for users is borderline disingenuous, and placing friends’ photos on ads is probably grounds for lawsuits. Take the example of Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, who says clearly that ads mid-program are Hulu’s way of monetizing an otherwise free platform. Facebook should clearly distinguish between pursuing business objectives and meeting users’ needs and should thus communicate the true intent of its actions.

The first of these is an extension of the execution point – clearing the gaps is all about making sure you close out all the execution issues without ignoring the boring, personally challenging or otherwise thorny ones – the equivalent to obsessing about having a well maintained car.

The second is a reflection of the reality of business in the web age, particularly for social media startups.  15 years ago companies could hope to keep the lid on difficult information and manipulate what the public thought – that is now all but impossible, but I don’t think many execs have fully taken that message on board.  And once again being honest is often not the easy option.  It’s an old cliche but trust is a valuable commodity that is hard to win and easy to lose.