startup success and longterm stability

Balancing Startups and Stability

I’m constantly talking about startups, but also about stability. It sounds like two things that are constantly fighting with each other in an ongoing back-and-forth struggle for supremacy. There’s benefits to either force taking control, however when the balance is struck between the two I believe you see true power and velocity. As a result, rather than letting one “win” or spending all your energies pushing one over the other, it’s better to keep up with a balancing act. Here’s what I think that looks like.

Startup Specialties

There are so many excellent aspects of living like a startup. Of course the startup mentality has been glorified and turned into this unrealistic standard by which every dreamer or entrepreneur with an idea strives after. What is this startup mentality? Incredibly fast development times, lots of PR and buzz, excitement, energy, passion, working around the clock, releasing new features all the time, oh, and let’s not overlook…breaking things. Constantly.

Based on that list of ideals let’s expand on them a bit to draw some conclusions about the specialties and shortcomings of the startup mentality.

  1. Fast Development Times: This is one of the greatest strengths of a startup. No other business can hear the voice of the customer and respond with quite the same speed as a startup. Whether that’s because of the closeness to the customer (Every customer is the only customer to a startup), or the flatness of an organizational structure where changes can be made practically in ‘real-time’, or due to the relatively small existing customer base where changes don’t have to take into consideration existing use cases.
  2. Passion: Startups exhibit a passion for accomplishing the outrageous. This feeling of incorrigible confidence in their ability to change the world (though often mocked) is the foundation upon which a startup is able to legitimately re-imagine how things should work and improve them.
  3. New Features: The last specialty of a startup I’ll mention is their ability to create new features. This relies heavily on the first two points, passion mixed with fast development/response times creates new and improved features and never-before-seen things. Startups are particularly adept at this and often are able to unseat older more established businesses as a result.

But there is one aspect of the startup that I do not highlight as a specialty or a positive aspect. Breaking things. That’s right, startups break things. all. the. time. Not a strength. In fact it’s the opposite – which is why I consider stability to be the yin to the startup yang.

Stability Strengths

The benefits of stability are deep and obvious but I’m going to address them anyways. Whenever building software that people come to rely on, one of the biggest and most important issues relates to stability and usability. In fact, stability is considered of such importance that it serves as the underlying foundation for a variety of other business attributes: usability, user experience, stickiness, reliability, excellence, and even success. Now for symmetry’s sake here’s three defined a bit more:

  1. User Experience: When software isn’t stable the user experience is often one of the first and most notable things to suffer. If the user isn’t able to do what they expect because of bugs, broken things, or problems the result is a negative experience that ends in a lost customer.
  2. *Excellence: Just as the user experience is affected by stability so too is the general consensus around the quality and excellence of a product (and ultimately the company). If a product continues to break or lacks stability the company’s image and brand suffers drastically.
  3. Success: As mentioned this is the end result of a cumulative effect from everything listed above. Which means lacking stability ends up in failure. Success is contingent on a number of factors, but stability is without a doubt one of the greatest. A stable, growing product promotes a positive user experience, it speaks to excellence, and it ends in success.

For these clear benefits stability is of great importance for a business of any size, even the startup business. Therefore it stands to reason the greatest success comes from balancing both of these concepts.

Striking Balance

There’s several factors that require consideration when striking a balance and while this is not the one and only reason I’ll share with you one important factor you should take into consideration.

But first, there’s an important lesson to be learned here: This balance is not a 50/50 split. That’s right, in this case balance does not have to be an equal, straight-down-the-middle split between stability and startup thinking.

One aspect that needs to be strongly considered when balancing these two involves the target audience. Here’s what I mean. If you’re creating a product for the consumer (end user), for example an app, a service, or a low-price per transaction product, you will address this balance differently than if you are focused on an enterprise level, higher cost of acquisition product, goods, or service.

It seems obvious, but I think many times we tend to forget this difference. Please take note: I am not advocating low cost does not need to be stable. Instead, it’s still a balance but with a greater priority placed on the startup side of things rather than the stability side of the scale. Make sense? If you’re only spending $50 on something you’ll appreciate the speed of development, new features, and passion of the team and community more so than some minor stability issues. You’ll be more forgiving of them. If however, you have a $50,000 purchase you expect it to be absolutely stable, reliable, and excellent. Again, you still want new features, passion, and speed but you discount those items in favor of the user experience and a stable, reliable product.

So, the next time you’re considering your own balance between startup thinking (throw new features at the wall and see what sticks) vs stability (make your product excellent and bug-free) – consider your audience.

Have other ideas or ways this balance can be evaluated? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

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