Strategy vs. Fundamentals

Creating companies is hard.  Most fail.  Overnight success is rare (my favorite “overnight success stories” are the ones that take 10+ years, like iRobot or Harmonix.)  While strategy plays a key part in the outcome of an entrepreneurial venture, the fundamentals matter a lot.  Take the following parable that I got from a friend recently.

I was thinking about you as I drove home from my tennis match the other night. My doubles partner was clearly excited to implement what she had learned in previous doubles strategy lessons. Minutes before we stepped onto the court, she developing signals she was going to use for poaching, staying put at the net, etc. Since I had never played against our opponents before, I wasn’t initially concerned about strategy. I figured assess their strengths and weaknesses during the warm up, then play to them accordingly.

We ended up losing 6-4, 6-4 to a team that wasn’t as strong as us. One of the reasons I think we lost is because there was too much focus on strategy and not enough on fundamentals. Our opponents capitalized on some very basic mistakes and ended up taking the last four games from us to win the match.

Clearly there are worse ways to spend a Monday evening than losing a tennis match. But, as a funder/board member/sounding board/cheerleader, have you ever counseled a start-up team where there is an imbalance between strategy development vs. executing on fundamentals? How do you steer them back on course, especially after they’ve experienced defeat?

I’ve been in way too many meetings where the talk is endlessly about “strategy.” Whenever you are in an endless cycle of a “we need a strategy” or “our strategy needs to be X” type discussions, step back and think about whether or not you have a team that is capable of actually building a business.

Great strategy is useless if you don’t know how to serve, volley, and hit the ball.