What matters is Winning.

“Great organizations whether companies, not-for-profits, political organizations, agencies, choose to win rather than simply play.”


This post was inspired by the book Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin and countless hours of discussions, mentoring sessions and personal experiences with startup founders and Corporate executives where the same questions seem to appear again and again.

A commonplace definition of strategy is “an integrated set of choices that uniquely positions a company in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to its competition.”

So in the era of agile development and going fast and breaking things, startup founders need to focus in observing, thinking, choosing and executing across the four fundamental elements of their company strategy, in order to win.

What is our winning aspiration?

A startup needs to determine a particular place in a market and a specific way to achieve its goals, thus winning needs to be translated into clear statements about the ideal future and how it will be achieved. This translates into including specific choices about what business to be in and or what not to be in.

It is not enough to define a high-level vision or mission, founders need to develop, through the specific choices they make and actions they take, the roadmap to winning. Moreover,  founders need to focus on building a sustainable competitive advantage and creating long-term value through the company.

Where will we play?

In a rapidly changing marketplace, with new products and services coming out every minute, many technology firms and startups, fail to plan for the medium and long term. Moreover the daily firefighting clouds founders’ focus. A startup needs to address from the beginning of its journey in which market, to which customers, through which channels, in which product categories and at which vertical stage it will deliver long-term sustainable value.

The industry specifics and the characteristics of the unique segments the company targets, will define to a large extent the how-to execute and what choices to make or not to make. Failing to do so from the very beginning, puts the startup in a reactive mode, making it easy prey for the competition and prone to failure.

How will we win where we have chosen to play?

A startup must create unique value to its Customers in a way that is distinct from competition, because simply bench-marking against the competition and then doing the same set of activities but more effectively, is not a sustainable competitive advantage.

Understanding not only what the Customers value and how does the company measure against its competition, but also what the response from the competition will be for the chosen course of actions of the startup is equally important.

What capabilities must we have in place to win?

Defining and executing on developing the core capabilities and activities that will enable the company to win, covers the following dimensions:

  1. Deep Customer understanding
  2. Innovation in product, marketing, operations and technology
  3. Brand Building
  4. Go-to-Market ability and capability
  5. Global scale

Independent of the life-cycle stage of the startup management systems, methods, processes and KPI’s need to be in place and drive founders choices, in order to  to support the company’s strategic choices and to ensure that the necessary capabilities are in place.

A big part of a strategy is about saying “NO” and this is a fundamental choice for successful execution in a fast-moving environment.

Want to learn more on how-to-do, drop us an email and we will be happy to share our knowledge and insights with you!

For Hippocampus.io,

Christos Lytras – Managing Partner

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