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The Seven Critical Success Factors for Launching & Driving a Successful Business
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Experiences and Observations from the Business Front Lines in the post Dot-Com World

Despite the current economic winter, the entrepreneur spirit is alive and well. Emerging companies are vigorously working to launch or reinvent themselves and deploy strategies that will grow their current marketshare and revenue. For every company that has deciphered the magic code dozens still struggle with the challenge. To assist you in "kickstarting" your business, we've identified seven critical factors that successful businesses, both large and small, have embraced. They will not only help ensure your business' survival but will also accelerate your competitive advantage.

1) Be realistic about your business objectives

Passionate leaders command most startups. They have an aura of electricity and their enthusiasm is contagious. Unfortunately, many of these same leaders operate under the myth that the product will sell itself, and so they set unachievable goals. This is one of the most common mis-steps that end up crippling a business.

Setting goals that are overly optimistic and vague, such as, "to be the company to grow to $1B faster than any other business," lack substance and meaning. Others such as "to become the defacto standard for web-based self-service in 12 months" include a time horizon, but fail to indicate how, what, or with whom success will be achieved.

Every company needs a clear vision and a mission statement, but specifying ambitious goals without support will lead to agitation in the board room, frustration for the sales team, and a detrimental cash burn rate. Those companies that were the most successful shared a common trait of setting clear business goals that included credible and complete information for their staff to execute them. As the economic conditions changed, they were also quick to revise their short- and long-term business goals to match the industry. Finally, each company went to great lengths to enlist the involvement of their employees to ensure not only the development and articulation of the business objectives and measures, but their adoption throughout the organization.

Success Factor #1: Identify stretch goals with reasonable milestones and timelines that can be matched with current investment and spending plans.

2) Understand your unique value proposition

Successful companies know that it takes more than technical leadership to create a sustainable business - there must be value for the customer that exceeds the value currently being offered by other solutions.

A value proposition starts with careful focus on a single target. The temptation to try to be all things to all people leads to the overextension of resources and the inability to execute. Next, a value proposition needs to clarify the specific problem you are solving and quickly explain the compelling reason why your solution is best.

Value propositions are not created in a vacuum or the boardroom. We discovered that several startups frequently solicited input from prospective customers early in the product development phase, collecting feedback regarding the problem, the product, the sales process, and the anticipated market reaction. This information helped them hone their business plan and accelerated a return on their marketing and sales investment.

Success Factor #2: Based on customer and/or prospect feedback, frame a value proposition that identifies the target customer and what you do for them better than anybody else.

3) Take a hard look at your competition

It is surprising to find that many startups and emerging companies are convinced they have no competition. Some entrepreneurs are focused so intently on their product that they fail to recognize evolving market trends or anticipate competitive advancements in markets that may overshadow their own value proposition. With product lifecycles shortening, it is critical that companies accurately judge the competitive landscape in order to take full advantage of their market window.

Many of the startups we've worked with considered two dimensions of competition: First, How are users addressing this need today without your product or service? In most cases, users have adopted some solution or service to address the problem you solve. These startups spent time understanding alternatives being used today before they launched their product. Second, What similar products or technologies are being employed today? One startup we worked with researched 30 competitors and distilled them into three categories. From this grid they were able to clarify their points of differentiation.

Success Factor #3: Research the competitive landscape and categorize your competitors, noting their strengths and weaknesses. Then compare your company against this landscape. This exercise helps identify points of differentiation that can be communicated in sales and marketing programs.

Part II of this Article: Critical Success Factors 4-7

Mike Gospe ( is one of the founding members of the KickStart Alliance. This paper reflects his recent experiences and those of his colleagues: Mary Gospe, Janet Gregory, Amy Matthews, and Mary Sullivan.

The KickStart Alliance ( is a team of senior marketing and sales leaders who assist startups and emerging companies develop and execute a variety of marketing and sales goals and objectives.

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