Editor’s Note: This excerpt is adapted from the new book, Unlock: 5 Questions to Unleash Your Company’s Hidden Power, by Matt Hulett, a longtime Seattle-based entrepreneur and technology business leader.

Remember the 2008 action movie Taken? It stars the gruff Irish tough guy Liam Neeson, whose seventeen-year-old daughter has been kidnapped by a band of Albanian smugglers. OK, it wasn’t a classic. But there’s one very famous scene, when Neeson’s character threatens the lead kidnapper in a manner that etched its words into my brain:

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money… but what I do have [is] a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”

When I think back on my career, I hear those words in my head. Probably because I have taken on jobs and companies that most operators would have avoided. Messy jobs: the turnarounds, the pivots, jobs where you have to go in and make an impact. Fast. So I do feel like a man with a particular set of skills—skills that most of my peers don’t have.

Not every business can be turned around, but many can. If you want to turn your business into a high-market share, high-growth company, here are five questions that will help you unlock your company’s potential value. 

1. Is the Market Big and Growing?

Ideally, you need at least a billion-dollar market if you’re looking to be a venture capital-based business or any business with “scaled” long-term growth prospects. 

That’s not necessarily true for all businesses—it’s totally fine to own and run a small, cash flow–positive company. But if you want a business that has the potential to be or is over $100 million, you need a large TAM (total addressable market). 

You must ensure that you have enough clearance in your market to grow market share and support your long-term growth. If you are looking for capital with investors, they are going to want to ensure the market is large enough to support your valuation so that they can get a reasonable return. 

If your market is small and crowded, you’re going to have compression. The market may be attractive, but that compression inevitably means that you will have new and existing entrants all competing for your customers, suppliers, leads, etc. It’s a lot easier to operate in a larger market with several different types of serviceable, addressable markets.

2. Are the Dynamics of the Market Favorable to You? 

Timing is the single most difficult attribute to gauge, but it is also one of the most essential. You are often too early or too late if you’re a newer player.

Market timing requires two things: identifying a small but growing market and identifying the likelihood of a technology or behavior shift in the market. Finding a small and growing market is based on your definition. So when you look at an existing market and are trying to determine if there are too many incumbents, take another look at it from the perspective of whether or not there’s a niche that you can exploit. Is there something in the market that you see could be an edge?

Matt Hulett in the Seattle offices of Rosetta Stone. (GeekWire File Photo / Todd Bishop)

It takes both intuition and data to determine if you can time a market just right. Solving this Goldilocks problem of not being too late or too early to a market is going to take a keen perspective on the market that will be counter-intuitive to what everyone else is doing—and it will be scary for you as the leader, executive, and entrepreneur.

3. Do You Have a Good Track Record in This Space? 

The product should be the most important thing you’re offering customers. You should know your pricing, packaging, and positioning. If you already have an established product and are now trying to jump a couple of squares to be a market leader, you also need to be able to dissect your position in the marketplace. This is beyond the product; it’s taking a step back and looking at the chessboard. You really need to understand your position in terms of the strategic value that your product serves its customers.

You must be really clear on what value you are delivering to your customers. And be clear how your customer value proposition maps to your strategy. 

You’ll know if you have product/market fit. You’ll have a good sense of your momentum getting customers, working with suppliers, beating the competition, etc. Your track record doesn’t have to be strong in order for you to have the ability to jump into a new market position. But it can certainly help.

4. Do You Have an Executable Plan? 

In my experience, when I’m taking over a company, the executable plan is typically lacking. I often find that in turnaround situations, there’s a strategy issue—for example, a company is working on too many businesses or has too many priorities. 

Develop a compelling vision, mission, and BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Then build out a simple plan framework for one and three years in the future. Align the plan with quarterly goal-setting and reviewing the specific methods on a regular basis, in case you need to do more or less of those particular efforts. It isn’t good enough to have a plan that is well crafted—the plan must become a living component of the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual activity of your business. 

If you are in the right place at the right time and have an offering that is working in the marketplace, that’s more than half the battle—but you need a strategic plan. Out of all these questions, building a better plan is the most controllable. You can always refine your plan, change it, and get help with it.

5. How Confident Are You that You Can Attract the Talent and Resources Needed to Pull This Off? 

You can have the best-laid plans, but if you do not have the capital and the team to execute on them, then you can kiss your dreams goodbye. 

In an early-stage company, most investors are laser-beam focused on the team. There’s no data, there’s no revenue, and the product might not even exist yet. It’s all about the team, and the investor is trying to decide if the entrepreneur has the grit and talent to start to make their grand vision into a reality. As your business grows, you’re going to need different types of people. For example, the brilliant founder who’s technical may not be the right skilled CEO over the long term.

I believe that your team is the most important asset in your business. If you’re large enough to hire a human resources professional, you should be treating that person as one of your most important right-hand leaders. Over time, as you and your leaders deal with constant growth, you will need to focus more on your team. Making sure that you have a smart, talented, and culturally aligned group is very important for the long haul.

Take on Your Business’s Self-Actualization

These five questions will accelerate your entire strategic planning process, so you don’t have to spend months and/or large sums of money paying a consulting group to do it for you. They are the core elements that summarize everything you need to know in order to determine whether you can change or enhance your company’s position. 

I would encourage you to take on the task of your business’s self-actualization. I am not of the mind that you have to throw in the proverbial towel if you are not already a market leader. There are many paths to the top. Every business is different, and only you and your team, after careful study, will have the best view on the path forward.

Unlock: 5 Questions to Unleash Your Company’s Hidden Power, published by Page Two Books, is available on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Source: Geek Wire


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