Which is more important: Management quality or a better plan?

By Dave Berkus

 

So, what do you think is more important? The quality of your management team, or the plan you execute toward success?

Checking with professional investors from angels to VC’s, the answer appears to be near unanimous: the quality of the proposed or actual management team comes in a strong first, before the attractiveness of the business plan itself.  The quest for a great management team is not a fluke, but rather a result of backward looks at the failure rate from past investments by those same angel investors and venture capitalists.

If you read last week’s analysis of statistics for startups and early stage businesses, you have learned the truth that at least half of the businesses backed by professional early stage investors will die within three years or less. That reality is a tough one for the professional investor, almost as tough as for those entrepreneurs who lose their businesses.  The latter can start new businesses, flush with the experiences gained from the previous effort and much the better for it.  But the investor’s cash is lost forever – and the experience gained usually is just another notch in their investor belt.

[Email readers, continue here…]  Here is the conclusion: It is the management team, most often led by a passionate entrepreneur with experience in the industry, which makes the biggest difference between success and failure, even for businesses built upon less than sterling basic ideas.  Among professional investors, almost all would rather back a great team with an average idea before a great idea and inexperienced team.  It comes back to coachability and flexibility, our insight from several weeks ago.

As a reminder of that conclusion: Great teams are flexible and have the advantage of experience in seeing the pitfalls before them from their past.  They are coachable in that they have taken advantage of the vast experience of others in overcoming obstacles and finding ways to speed a product to market faster or create a service whose quality exceeds that of the competition.

None of this is to say that an inexperienced entrepreneur cannot lead a great new business.  But it would be foolish to try without surrounding himself with as many experienced co-leaders as possible from the outset.   As a start, that smart entrepreneur will soon “know what he (she) doesn’t know”, an important qualifier for success in any business endeavor, when combined with the willingness to fill gaps in knowledge with help from those who have the experience to do so.

Even if you are not considering taking in money from professional investors, this advice would serve you well in protecting your own monetary investment.

How to make a small problem into a big one.

By Dave Berkus

Allowing small problems to escalate into big ones is simple.  Just ignore the signs for long enough and the job is done.  It takes far more energy to review regularly the key performance indicators you’ve established for each individual and yourself.  But a small excursion caught early and corrected saves massive corrective resources later.

Take for example the manufacturing company with a small quality problem in one component, resulting in a test failure rate above the norm.  You can just reject the components, especially if coming from an outside supplier, or you can get to the root of the problem by examining the cause and re-engineering the process or product quickly, saving you and perhaps your supplier time and cost.  Such a culture of quality engineering has an additional benefit in creating a higher bar for all to see, making the public statement that quality is a top priority.

The same careful management applies to virtually everyperson and process in the organization.  If there are ways to measure successful output or execution, find them and use them regularly.  If one person or department is not pulling its weight, others notice and if no action is taken, often others are discouraged because of the lack of management interest and control.  The variant of “one bad apple” holds true in corporate cultures that to a degree entrepreneurial managers and young CEOs rarely credit – until a late correction is made and a collective sigh of relief can be heard company-wide.