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Why a headstart on your competition is not a sustainable advantage

sustainable advantage sustainable advantage

Chris Rogers is a partner at venture capital firm Lumia Capital, having previously co-founded Nextel which sold to Sprint for $35 billion. Here is advice to entrepreneurs.

1. A head start is not a sustainable advantage

The work done to date may give you a head start but it is not a sustainable advantage.

I often hear entrepreneurs characterize their businesses as having a 6 month or 12 month sustainable advantage over the competition, as if that is something they can rely on.

They are presuming that others could not work as intelligently nor as quickly as their team.

We look at enterprises in similar spaces, particularly in mobile payments, e-learning and ecommerce, across a variety of markets (US, Europe, LATAM and MENA. We have seen countless example where that presumption of a sustainable advantage has proven untrue.

It is much safer to assume that someone else can and is doing the same work faster and smarter and make your decisions accordingly.

A sustainable advantage is created by focusing on true differentiation, which more likely comes from finding local market pain points and solving them.

2. Do not spend too many cycles agonizing over decisions

I see too many entrepreneurs spend hours/day/weeks discussing and thinking through decisions which is often time that could be better spend on execution.

As important as a decision seems in the present, it is almost always far less important in hindsight.

In addition, there is no requirement that a more belabored process has to be employed for important decisions.

Good entrepreneurs have strong decision making skills and speed is a key component.

Once you have made a number of these type of decisions you should realize that there is not a moment when you are absolutely sure you have come to the right decision.

You just have to make it so you can move on to the next.

This applies to young entrepreneurs as well, who should be confident that while they have not made a huge number of business decisions, they have selected different options throughout their life. That skill is transferable.

3. Do not overload yourself with mentors and advisors

Excellent entrepreneurs are able to balance the number of mentors and advisors with their capacity to keep them current on the business and their ability to quickly assimilate their perspectives on an issue.

I see too many young entrepreneurs who feel it is a badge of honor to have a large group of senior mentors and advisors.

In my experience they are most useful if the input given is based on real knowledge of the state of the enterprise.

Keeping a large group of advisors and mentors up to speed is a huge task which is often short changed.

The result can be a lot of pontificating (Yes, many of the folks who agree to be advisors and mentors enjoy hearing themselves speak) which brings very little useful advice.

Further, even if the advice is useful, the entrepreneur has to be adept at quickly assembling and assessing the different inputs and then making his or her own decision.

It’s also the entrepreneur’s duty to edit and curate his advisory group.

The expertise that seems useful at the outset, usually is no longer needed as companies mature, and this applies at every stage of the company’s development.

It does take a certain level of maturity to terminate an advisor’s participation but it is an absolute requirement to keep the team, from whom you take input, fresh and relevant to the business.