Dead Company

Two weeks ago, I brought you Dumb Company, a starting list of things that companies who fail the CIRCUIT rating (Corporate Intelligence Rating Calibration Under Inflationary Times) tend to do. Today, I bring you Part III of the series, which will attempt to explain why your favorite vendor likely won’t be here next year at this time.

The harsh reality is that this year has seen a couple of big vendors, with credit lines severely diminished or cut off due to bank failures, lost lawsuits, and VC belt-tightening, go through a number of layoff rounds. Two of the larger vendors in the space, despite claims of “regrouping”, are in serious trouble and (could soon be) on the block … and they could soon be joined by up to a dozen small companies that, relatively speaking, took too much VC money, and sold too little product, in the last few years. Some have great products, and will be sorely missed if they don’t get a quick cash infusion and close their doors, but it’s a harsh reality when you don’t manage for frugal growth, don’t continually focus on innovation not just in your products but in your internal operations as well, and don’t bring in outside expert help when you need it.

Why is this happening? The reasons vary from company to company, but the following reasons are common.

Too much VC money, too soon, against an overly ambitious business plan

The days of your average company spending seven figures on yet another enterprise system are over. Especially if such system is unproven. The way to succeed is to plan for slow and steady growth; delay sales, marketing, and CXO hires until the product is (almost) ready for massive deployment; and take as little money as possible early on so that there’s equity left to get more money later if the market declines and throws a crimp into your five-year plan.

Poor Approach to Sales

Many companies believe that if you bring in a few big guns (knowing that 20% of the sales force is responsible for 80% of the revenue at enterprise software companies) or get enough feet out there, you’ll get sales. This isn’t automatically true for a number of reasons. (1) The big guns are used to selling proven systems with large organizations backing them up. (2) It’s not the size of your sales force that matters, it’s the quality. (3) If they’re not getting the right message through to the right people, they’re not going to sell a thing.  (And if you haven’t had one lately, a sales and marketing review by an expert in the space might be a good idea.)

Too Many Assumptions, Too Few Verifications

A lot of entrepreneurs come from big company backgrounds where they’ve worked in a job for a number of years and grew frustrated at the lack of a solution for a problem to which they’re sure they know the solution. What many don’t understand is that not every company has the same problems, or the same processes, or the same viewpoint as to what constitutes a solution and, believing they are the expert, they over-engineer the solution to the point where it only solves one problem for one company.

Belief that Innovation Bursts are Enough

Some companies believe that once they have a product that represents a new solution to an unsolved, or poorly solved problem, they don’t have to do anything else for at least a couple of years. They effectively stop New Product Development and divert all their efforts to Sales & Marketing. The problem is that anything that can be built can be copied and improved upon many times faster, and the way to gain, and keep, customers is through continual innovation.

Our Way is the Right Way

The entrepreneurial team comes up with a way to structure, and run, the business, usually on-the-fly and by the seat of their pants, and runs with it, no matter what. If the structure is ripe with inefficiencies, it can prevent scalability and lead to discontent, which can, in return, result in the loss of key personnel.

So what can you do if you don’t want to end up like your favorite vendor?
Remember that consultants are cheap and

  • Get a Sales Review
    Are your sales people getting the right message through to the right people? Are they aligned with marketing? Are they selling at the right price points?
  • Get a Technology RoadMap Review
    Are you solving the right problems? Is your solution advancing at the right rate? Do you have enough innovation to get, and keep, a customer’s attention?
  • Get an Operations Review
    Are you efficient? Are your people enabled? Are you ready for growth?

And if you don’t know who to call, call the doctor (or e-mail him at thedoctor <at> sourcinginnovation <dot> com). If he can’t help you, he’ll help you hook up with someone who can.