Another book that influenced me early in my career was The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, 1997. Believe it or not this book is still in print! Reading this book was my first lesson of many that startups need to focus, focus, and focus some more.
The central thesis of the book is that companies could only excel at one of three business dimensions:
- Close to the customer
- Operation efficiency
Good examples are Nordstrom, close to the customer; Apple, innovation; and Walmart, operational efficiency.
Taking an inventory of your founders and staff and what your core competencies are should help you decide where to focus. But you should also be aware that certain industries are dominated by a focus on operational efficiency, like supermarkets, whereas others, like consumer software, are dominated by innovation.
But that’s not to say you should just play follow the leader, you could create a disruptive company by, say, being very close to the customer in the supermarket business. Just realize that you are going against prevailing forces in that market.
And finally just because you excel at one dimension doesn’t mean you ignore the others. Tim Cook made his bones at Apple by making the company’s manufacturing systems operationally efficient. In fact, after 5 years at the helm without a single breakthrough product, one could argue that under Tim Cook Apple has gone from excelling at innovation to excelling at operational efficiency!