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Execution: 99% of Startup Success

On June 1st, The University of Luxembourg Incubator organized the 2nd Falling Walls Lab pitching competition hosted at the University of Luxembourg. Among the members of the guest jury was Martin Bell, Global Startup Advisor, Investor, Keynote Speaker, and Author of the “100 Task Startup” playbook. Mr. Bell gave a keynote speech on the core tenets underlying his playbook and provided Silicon Luxembourg with his thoughts for lightning-fast growth and successful execution of an idea. Check out the key points here!
(Featured Image: Martin Bell, Global Startup Advisor, Investor, Keynote Speaker, and Author of the “100 Task Startup” playbook / Image Credit © University of Luxembourg)

The Keynote

“We talk too much about nifty concepts,’” said Martin. “Whereas we should really be focused on building a solid foundation.” Just as a child focuses on learning how to walk before s/he moves on to driving, so should a startup team solidify the critical internal elements before trying to go public. It’s all about building solid foundations.

We often tend to think that the foundation of a startup is its idea. Martin sought to push back on this, tipping his hat to the old adage, “only 1% of a successful innovation is the idea. The other 99% is execution. Just like making a baby is easy and raising a baby is hard, so too is the execution of an idea on the market.”

But what are the components of execution? In essence, team members are the most readily identifiable elements. “You really need someone to construct and build the idea, whether it’s a product or a service, and another person to correctly implement it on the business side. An innovator is thus inventor plus entrepreneur. One of the biggest problems today is that founders rush growth without taking care of the necessary foundational steps to growth; or, in other words, without excellent execution.”

“On the business side, there is a more or less clear blueprint for building successful companies,” according to Martin. First, you need HR, finance, and legal set up. “You don’t want to create a product and build up your business, only to find out a year later that the product you built infringes on someone else’s IP,” said Martin through a knowing smile. The next step is verifying that the product and its tech are secure, scalable, and user-friendly, followed by setting up sales and marketing, operations, and customer care. “The last step is to make sure you have solid data collection and reporting, to do your stress test, and finally to put it all together: launch!”

“Most of the ideas given today [that is, at Falling Walls Lab Luxembourg 2018],” finished Martin, “are still in the idea stage. We’ll see what happens in the execution!”

“Only 1% of a successful innovation is the idea. The other 99% is execution. Just like making a baby is easy and raising a baby is hard, so too is the execution of an idea on the market.”

The Interview

You speak about lightning fast startup construction, meaning in 20 weeks. Do you think there is any risk for error in speedy efforts? Perhaps for human error?

No—that’s precisely the point of the 100 Task Startup playbook. Errors in the beginning stages of a startup usually occur because founders either don’t know what to do or in what order to do it. If you follow the steps, you remove the “unknown unknowns” from the equation. Think about a time when you said to yourself, “if only I knew then what I know now!” The playbook helps entrepreneurs avoid that situation because it is the best-practice product of my vast startup experience. It takes away your blind spots. But hey, these aren’t just my words, this has worked time and time again.

What is the biggest weak point in new startups?

The human one. It always comes down to the people, and it all cascades down from the founding team. It comes down to people’s blind spots—what they are and are not aware of. If two co-founders start a company and they ignore what they don’t know, then risk will snowball. Founders’ inability to face what they don’t know is the biggest weak point. At the end of the day, the founding team can never cover all of the necessary skills needed to build a successful business around their idea. That’s why the execution of team construction is so important.

On the same note, emotional intelligence and domain expertise are equally tantamount to success. Emotional intelligence is critical for effective people management, which is what determines successful execution in the long term—and don’t forget, execution is 99%.

What is one thing that can jump out to you during a pitch?

It’s really the passion. It manifests itself in a few ways. One is the sheer fire in the entrepreneur’s eyes. The other is, quite simply, how well the entrepreneur has thought the idea through. That comes through in the presentation and in the Q&A.


This article was first published in the 9th issue of SILICON magazine. Be the first to read SILICON articles on paper before they’re posted online, plus read exclusive features and interviews that only appear in the print edition, by subscribing online.

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