There’s something that sounds conventionally wise about saying that you don’t need to be the best runner, you just need to be faster than the slowest. That you can make good money in a business without worrying about being the world’s best. But that’s the wrong way to think.
The thing is, you have to have standards of excellence and quality clearly in mind when you approach whatever it is you’re working on. You can’t just jump on board with a new idea and use the loose concept of an MVP to make yourself feel better about building and making shitty things.
The right way to think about every single thing that you create is that you are trying to shoot for the number one spot, and you have to make that the core standard of whatever you build. It doesn’t have to reach that standard on the first fucking go but it does have to shoot for it.
If you’re aiming for second place — that’s the level of quality you will get. That — and nothing better. If you’re aiming for second place you’ll build second rate. That’s what I like to talk about building with…
…The DuckDuckGo Mindset
I want to talk about a search engine called DuckDuckGo. They’re what you might call an “Indie” search engine, because that shit is not necessarily out to beat Google. In the same way that Black Flag weren’t out to beat Michael Jackson.
They are not going to beat Google for traffic or for advertising or for anything else. And in fact, they don’t aim to beat Google. The search engine that doesn’t track you. A superior search experience with smarter answers, less clutter and real…
Check ’em out, they’re worth a look in. If you go through their stats, you can see they run a lot of searches. Here’s the traffic for the first few days of September, October and November.
That traffic says one thing to me. It says repeat users. DuckDuckGo may not be trying to beat Google for popularity or anything else. But they are still shooting for number one in their pursuit of excellence and quality — they’ve gotta be, in order to have that kind of dedicated month on month use in Google, Bing and (somehow, still) Yahoo’s world.
And if you look at some of what DuckDuckGo do — supporting privacy, adding features and looking after their users — you get the sense that they don’t build their product thinking that they’re aiming for 2nd, 3rd or 4th place. They build it with a 1st place mentality.
If you’re building with that mindset, you’re not going to cut corners. You’re not going to get sloppy, and you’re not going to forget how important your customers actually are to everything you do.
The DuckDuckGo mindset is building for number one without that necessarily being the goal of your business. And it’s a vitally important mindset. It guides their standards in product development.
It’s All About Having Standards
You don’t set standards by stating what’s “good enough” for you. Sure it may be “good enough” for your company to carve out a niche against Microsoft instead of beating Office 365 into the ground, but that’s not having a standard. That’s lowering the bar.
Your standards should be high. High enough that you could conceivably be better than Microsoft in the sheer quality of what you do and the level to which you approach it.
Your standards are always there to measure how close you are to doing everything the best you can possibly do it, not to measure whether or not you’re hitting the bare minimum. And you have to set those standards for every aspect of your business.
What will you expect from your online chat? That customer service operators will show up and close tickets? Or that they’ll try to beat the best customer service in the world?
Be Like The San Francisco 49ers
I want you to meet someone incredible. This is Bill Walsh, the head coach and GM for the SF 49ers who took over in one of their lowest points and took them to a Superbowl win against the odds and against the expectations of everyone who said he didn’t stand a chance.
Bill Walsh said he didn’t go into the 49ers telling people that they were going to win and they had to win and his plan would make them win. He told them to stop thinking about winning, and start thinking about meeting higher standards throughout the entire organisation. From the folks who checked parking tickets to the quarterback, everyone had to meet better and higher standards of what it meant to do their fucking job.
His theory was that you don’t win with low standards. Therefore, higher standards on their own, if met, could make a team into winners far more than going about worrying over whether or not they’d make it to the Superbowl.
Here’s a quote from him that I love:
The culture precedes positive results. It doesn’t get tacked on as an afterthought on your way to the victory stand. Champions behave like champions before they’re champions: they have a winning standard of performance before they are winners. — Bill Walsh
You don’t go into a startup worrying about what you can get away with and how to meet the lowest bar. You go into it worrying about how you can meet the highest standard of performance that you set for yourself. That’s what breeds success more than writing a cunning plan to defeat Salesforce on a big whiteboard in your meeting room.