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Small and (fr)agile

It’s an easy assumption to make: that small, nimble companies should easily outperform the behemoths they seek to destroy (or, perhaps, become). But they often don’t. Companies which should be small and agile take months or even years to bring ideas to market. Why?

– People don’t actually understand your idea.
Perhaps because you haven’t communicated it properly, perhaps because the world isn’t quite ready, perhaps because it’s not as good an idea as you think.

– You aren’t doing it right
A reasonable idea with perfect execution will almost always outperform a great idea with terrible execution.

– The magpies
If the latest shiny new idea you read about, or the most recent agency pitch is always the best, it’s possible you haven’t quite worked out your strategy very well. A lot of small businesses jump from one idea to the next, attracted by its newness rather than its viability.

– Overthinking
I’ve seen one- or two-person startups going through training sessions in how to run effective twelve-person board meetings. It would have been far better to have learned how to, say, properly choose, run and use a good CMS.

– Mistaking activity for action
Most of the eighteen-hour days I’ve seen people do (or suffered myself) are the result of bad planning, an inability to make sharp decisions or an unwillingness to ask for help or advice. I’ve seen people spend hours making colourful, but useless, spreadsheets. A whole day on learning how to do work that could be outsourced for a few pounds. Doing stuff doesn’t equal achieving stuff.

– Fear of being found out
Probably the biggest: do you look for excuses to not launch (the business, your website, a new product, an idea, a blog post…)? You’re probably worried about being found out. When the idea is still in your head it can still work perfectly. As soon as you reveal it to the wider world and, crucially, ask for the ultimate validation of someone giving you money, you run the risk of having your dreams dashed. As launch day approaches, the changes can get more and more dramatic: a last-minute rebrand 48 hours before a launch is one that particularly sticks in my mind.

Take a known idea, make a powerful change to it and then execute the marketing, sales and management perfectly.

If that sounds easy, it very much isn’t. But if you’ve got any thoughts or suggestions, add them below.

Best wishes,



  • Tony Hawkins says:

    This is a great summary of startup elephant traps. I’ve come to realise that even if you reach the stage where you can visualise the final product, you’re still months away from actually having the product ready to sell. This is the Time of Maximum Frustration, where nobody moves fast enough for your vision.
    But keep plodding along and making pragmatic decisions, and eventually the start line is reached! 🙂
    Launch Fear is a real thing – feel it then launch anyway. And best of luck!

    • Tom Doggett says:

      Thanks Tony – I think a lot of people enjoy the ideas stage. It can feel far more fun to think about how successful something might be than to actually dare to find out. I’m glad you’ve got yours live and launched – hopefully your dreams, plans and hard work for it will come to fruition.