Getting Things Done: An Entrepreneurial Prerequisite

by Louis Marascio on January 2, 2010

Mark Suster, a two-time entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, is doing a series of posts on his blog about Entrepreneurial DNA. Mark’s series is going through 11 key attributes that successful entrepreneurs need to have. I have enjoyed reading the series thus far but I think Mark left out the most important attribute of all.

Mark’s list begins with what he believes to be the key attribute: tenacity. Quoting from the article:

Tenacity is probably the most important attribute in an entrepreneur.  It’s the person who never gives up – who never accepts “no” for an answer.  The world is filled with doubters who say that things can’t be done and then pronounce after the fact that they “knew it all along.”  Look at Google.  You think that anybody really believed 1999 that two young kids out of Stanford had a shot at unseating Yahoo!, Excite, Ask Jeeves and Lycos?

I agree with everything Mark is saying about not giving up, but I would disagree at its the “most important” attribute. In my mind the most critical requirement for any entrepreneur is whether they Get Things Done.

Let’s Git-R-Done

Larry the Cable Guy

Larry the Cable Guy is an American Redneck comedian famous for the phrase, “Git-r-done”. In my mind, this should be the rallying cry of every founder as they work through obstacle after obstacle in their quest to start a company.

Getting this done is so key you might think of it as a prerequisite to starting a company. If you can’t get things done, it doesn’t matter how much tenacity you have. It doesn’t matter how hard you work. Nothing matters if you can’t move the ball forward.

In real world terms this can manifest itself in many ways. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I working on the absolute most important task I could be?
  • Am I working on something that will eliminate an obstacle to my success?
  • Am I avoiding the hard choices that need to be made to evolve my company and product?
  • Did I just walk away from the most important opportunity in the early life of my company because I thought it was impossible to grasp?
  • When you see an obstacle in front of you is your initial reaction anything other than to move forward, finding a way through, around, or over the problem?

Seemingly every day or week or a young startup’s life the founders are presented with new and unknowable challenges. In fact, I tend of think of this as an indicator of potential success. If you don’t feel as if you’re on the razors edge then you’re not pushing hard enough.

Getting Things Done at Metreos

At Metreos there was one specific event that was critical to our success. It was a Monday morning, if I recall correctly, and we got a call from a potential customer. At this time, we had no customers at all, just a bunch of people kicking the tires. This customer had been evaluating the product but we couldn’t get them over the line in terms of buying. Their question to me was simple, “We’re about to buy a product from one of your competitors. We like yours better, but there is a key feature that is missing. If you can add that feature by Friday, we’ll go with yours instead.”

Now, calling what they wanted a feature is really doing it a disservice. What they really wanted was an entire application. You see, at Metreos we build development tools. This potential customer wanted to use our tools but they also needed this particular application more. So, the customer decided to see if they could get both: Metreos would very quickly build the application using our tools, and the customer would buy both the application and the development platform they wanted.

The only problem was the application they wanted could easily take 3 months to build and they had given us a week to prove the key tenet of our sales pitch, that using our development tools would significantly reduce the amount of time required to build these applications. Of course, in my mind, there was no way we weren’t going to get this done.

Late Friday afternoon we shipped the application to the customer. It certainly wasn’t polished, but it worked and it proved to them that not only did we really want their business but the underlying tenet of our product, that you could very quickly build telephony applications, was true. This was our first customer, and they went on to be our biggest and best customer as well.

Getting things done is the most important attribute any entrepreneur can have. If you can’t get things done then no amount of hard work will make you a success.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Louis, yeah, “getting things done is very important” and will be making an appearance on my list by the time it's completed. I already wrote the posts but don't want to get ahead of VentureHacks who I think is publishing this week.

    I actually wrote a post about getting stuff done here –> http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2009/11/19/w

    From that you'll see that we're like minded. I think the real answer is that you need both tenacity and to get stuff done.

  • http://fitnr.com Louis Marascio

    Mark, thanks for the reference to your JFDI post. We're definitely on the same page. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  • http://www.meanrachel.com/ MeanRachel

    Good stuff. I might add that this means a laser-focus on what is important Right Now versus what is important Later. Additionally, I think it is important to recognize low hanging fruit that might not be as flashy but can contribute to the overall growth of the company.
    Louis, as a CEO/entrepreneur, do you have any tips for employees who are working closely with these visionary types to help them focus on how to “git r done?”

  • http://fitnr.com Louis Marascio

    Rachel, you're right on the focus. Being able to make value judgements on
    “what really matters right now” is a great way to think about it. It's also
    a very hard thing to do :) . I find that many founder-managers don't help
    their employees make value judgements that are consistent with the direction
    their trying to take the company–their vision. They assume that employees
    have the complete perspective, when in reality the entrepreneur hasn't done
    a good job really helping everyone have that vision. So, my advice to
    employees in that environment would be to seek out the knowledge required to
    maintain the visionary context and then applying daily judgement to what
    you're working on to make sure you're getting the right stuff done–the
    stuff that takes you to the vision.

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