In a post last week , I cautioned against spending your company’s resources before you know where a new market is going. I used the phrase “fast follower” to describe this strategy. The concept is to hold off investing until you know the mix of product, package and price that’s most likely to gain market acceptance and then move–fast. The final and essential word in that sentence is “fast“. If it’s important to hold back your resources while the market is taking shape, it’s even more important to go hell for leather once the market starts to take off. But, as Einstein was famous for saying, never confuse motion with progress.
The four key skills of the successful fast follower are: study; team-building; planning; and measurement. Those don’t sound much like by words of someone who feels the need for speed do they? You migjht have expected me to ask for recklessness or daring. But those qualities lead to mindless action, not efficient progress.Please don’t confuse my suggestion that you avoid betting the farm during the early, churning days of new markets with a call for inaction. You should study emerging markets carefully and make a number of smaller bets that are designed to increase your knowledge and comfort with the emerging opportunity. For example, right now you might be in the study mode with RSS feeds, blogging, tagging and viral marketing. On the other hand, buying keywords is very quickly moving from experimentation to raipd growth.
Contrary to popular opinion, monarchies don’t move quickly. The monarch (call him the CEO) becomes a bottleneck if every decision needs his imprint. Team-building is a critical element of building a fast and agile company. You need a solid base of talented managers united by a shared vision and strategy. These managers need to be empowered to act within the sphere of their own expertise.
When you move from study and teambuilding into execution, you can’t call time out every few weeks for an offsite to ponder what you should do next. Good planning you should give your managers a clear script for growth that empowers them while simultaneously ensuring that every part of the company is going in the same direction. It doesn’t do you any good for the sales team to get orders for products that will never be built. The heart of a good plan for a fast growing business is a series of smart experiments that are well-measured experiments.
I believe in “metrics driven innovation”. Every week, we are trying new things that are consistent with our overall plan. These tests are set up the same way that you did experiments in high school science class. You make a hypothesis, test it, measure the results, and then adapt your theory. By constantly testing, you gain the ability to learn faster than your competition and move quickly towards the optimal mix of the Four P’s (product, price, place and promotion).
When you feel the need for speed in your business, feel the need for study, planning, team-building and measurement.