Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Strategy Matters

Having well-defined goals and a strategy to accomplish those goals are critical to any achievement.  Without goals, you are on a journey without knowing your destination.  Without a strategy, you are on a journey without a map.  Lacking either, you will not get where you are going, and you will not know it if, by chance you get there. Unfortunately, I had to experience the consequences of not having a strategy in both mountain bike racing and in business.

My mountain bike lesson came at the national championship races in Mammoth Mountain in 1996.  I was fit and had been racing well that season.  At the starting line, I was waiting with my friend and training partner Krage.  While I was anxious to begin riding, Krage was focused and sizing up the field of riders.  The racecourse started on an extended hill climb, and although climbing was my strength, I had no idea how I would do against such a large and deep field.  At the gun, we started off and the pack continued to thin until I was alone at the front.  I reached the top of the climb first and started down the singletrack descent.  On this downhill section, I was caught and passed by a few riders.  On the next uphill, I caught many of them and also started passing riders from other age groups.  As the race went on and riders sped around the circuitous course, a cloud of lava dust rose and hung over everything like thick fog.  The white dust was unreal and I found myself distracted, but continued to ride well passing many riders and occasionally being passed.  About 15 miles into the 20 mile race, I was startled out of my daydreaming by my friend Krage.  His first question was “how many riders are in front?”  I had no idea.  I was just riding hard and having fun.  When I told Krage this, he was furious.  Although it was hard to breathe through the dust and exertion, he expended precious energy to scream at me and used his anger to rapidly drop me.  Krage went on to win the national championship and I finished 5th.  We had both accomplished what we had set out to do:  Krage won and I rode hard. 

Although it would have been nice to win the national championship, mountain biking is sport.  In business, poor decisions have more serious consequences.  My business strategy lesson (or lack of strategy lesson) came a few years later in 2000 when I had grown ZTEC to 10 people and almost $2M in revenue.  Up until that point, I had been successful through a combination of hiring skilled people and leading with a “we-can-do-anything” attitude.  About that time, I started to realize that my approach was not going to scale into a thriving, lasting business.  By chance, I was contacted by a business outreach organization call Technology Ventures Corporation (TVC). TVC connects entrepreneurs with investors, and immediately asked for a business plan.  I had been running ZTEC for more than 4 years, and had never considered putting together a business plan.  This was a critical and pivotal moment in the Company’s history, and started us down a new path that gave me much more control over where we were going and how we would get there. 

These lessons are simple and obvious:  If you want to accomplish anything of consequence, make sure that you have goals and a strategy to accomplish those goals.

No comments:

Post a Comment