Like Playing to Lose, Playing for the Tie is a strategy that doesn’t lead to winning. The difference is that people inadvertently playing to lose think they’re aiming their boat at the far shore, instead they’re heading for an iceberg. Playing for a tie means you’re more scared of losing than winning.
Why is not losing (but not winning) a bad strategy for a startup? Because:
- Opportunity cost – What aren’t you doing while you’re not succeeding? What next great startup idea are you not working on while your current one treads water?
- Survival is not (necessarily) a milestone – Survival is a huge achievement for any startup, but it’s not the goal. You have to be able to tell the difference.
Many startups have a strategy to win at the beginning but this gets diluted to a strategy for a tie when things get operational. Here are some telltale signs:
- You’re afraid to say that you are or will be a world leader in your category (ask yourself why)
- You never hear your team talk about being the best
- You gravitate towards any type of validation (“they like me!”) even if it’s too scattered to truly prove your business value
- You’re risk averse. I’m a firm believer that many risks, like operational risks, can be mitigated in a startup. But you just can’t avoid the fundamental leaps of faith that will be required in proving your business. If you’re afraid of leaping ask yourself what you’re preserving by avoiding risk. If you’re still proving out your business then you really don’t have anything to protect (yet).
Caveat: I’m not saying swing for the fences every time. Be iterative, i.e. get out there and see what sticks. But don’t forget that getting a little traction reduces some risk (a few people like me) and sets you up for new risks (how do I get everyone to like me). See Crossing the Chasm.
Next up: Playing to Win