A vendetta to get you up in the morning

I always like to say that a little vendetta is healthy for a startup. A vendetta, or keeping frenemies as Mark Suster wrote, can be a positive way to differentiate yourself if you understand the bigger picture. It is risky as part of of a company culture, but when you believe in something enough you can use it to your advantage.

Now, the term vendetta might be a little harsh at least by the letter of its definition. Perhaps frenemies is a little more more palatable.

The best playbook on this is Marc Benioff’s Behind the Cloud and Mark covers the rest in his post (especially the advice: Do not actually think your competition is stupid), so I will only add:

The bigger message has to be positive

Mark Suster mentioned Marc Benioff in his post. If you dig in on how Marc has positioned Salesforce against the rest of the industry it can, on the surface, seem very confrontational. The truth is that every jab Marc takes seems significant because he draws momentum from his very positive and forward thinking vision for Cloud Computing/SaaS.

Without that leadership then Marc might have been less endearing, but instead he gave more positive thinking and leadership than he did negative. That meant that when Salesforce did use negative tact (their logo is an example of negative messaging), then it was easy for the customer to understand where that negative message fits in to a larger picture. Without the bigger picture? It’s just negative.

Know what you are not

In my most recent startup we were stacked up against a handful of competitors during a “pitch day” to the executive of the customer. It was a “must win” deal for us but it was still a longshot because we were up against some well entrenched competitors who “owned” the industry. The truth is that we had harboured a quiet vendetta against these guys for ages and it drove us to understand their business as much as possible. “Competitive intelligence” was not something we did formally, but I realized at that moment that it had become a small hobby. We would research what the competition was doing, who they had doing it, and how their customers felt about it.

The end result was that we knew exactly how to position ourselves to differentiate away from the rest of the competition. When the customer thought about the pitches they thought about us on one side and the competition as a cluster on the other. Our value vs. theirs was implied and we didn’t have to spell it out or waste valuable time in our pitch. We knew what they were and what we didn’t want to be. We just had to believe that it was how the customer felt as well.

Don’t be a hater

That is all to say: Don’t be a hater. Don’t make it personal. Don’t be vindictive. Love the game of it all.

In the end: it is a game and if you don’t realize that you will be the first to run out of steam.

This is all especially true in enterprise software where the customers (nee users) are actually being treated like crap by your competition. A little empathy goes a long way with them.

A lot of people like to pretend they love their competition and talk a friendly game. That is fine, it is probably your best default position, but when the time comes to walk out of that corner and start landing punches then we all expect you to make them count. Your customers will respect it, your employees will respect it and more than any other: your competition will respect it.

Just make it count.

Making 2011 a BIG year

2011 is the year for us to find some winners and to make them explode on to the international scene. 2011 is the year for Canada to pull out of the pit and to hit the track hard. It is going to get a bit crazy and you have to decide for yourself whether that is a good thing or not.

2011 is the year we capitalize on some of the hustle of the last 3 years and when we all focus on building some huge successes.

For a lot of people 2011 is the year of winning big.

Economic indicators continue to suck, but it doesn’t seem like anyone cares. Competition is heating up and everyone is ready for a good brawl. Year of gluttony. Present company excepted of course.

Howard is going to Russia. As an EIR I have been practicing sitting back in my chair, putting my hands behind my head and saying “What’s your China strategy??” (that’s a joke BTW)

The IPO market will not be back in 2011 though. Frankly, I don’t care.

You are going to hear less editorial from us at StartupNorth in 2011 because we are going to be focused on the big wins. I am putting my money and time to work in startups that I think are going to KILL IT. Where are you focusing on 2011?

2011 isn’t about kumbaya for me. It’s about making the best of a good time. We live in good times. I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but I want to see the baby put to work.

This is the year to take your shot. Either exit or go big

Opportunities in 2011 will be outsized compared to what we have seen and may be better than we will see again for another five years.

The bears are all tired and the bulls will be back to buying. The “early exits” and “talent acquisitions” we have seen in the last 18 months will continue, but we will also be back to some really big opportunities.

This is the year to take that leap.

Whether you’ve been working on an OK business that needs scale, or you have a killer founding team ready to come together to attack a huge market, then this is the time to gather resources and to really focus on making it happen.

Can you do it in Canada? Good teams are going to get funded. Good teams and big ideas. Before you start worrying about your idea, think about your team and how you are going to execute.

This is the year to try that big idea.

Whatever you are passionate about, 2011 is the year when people with big ideas will finally be listened to again. No more “that will never work” — it’s going to be optimism and opportunity. People are ready to listen to visionaries again and we need them. Whether it is social change, a new startup or a research project — this is your time to roll.

If you have been sitting on the sidelines then it is time to get off your butt and make your move. Now or never.

Losers will be lost

For some reason people always think that it is the losers that win in “good times”. That’s a load of crap. Bad companies will always be bad companies. They aren’t going to get any further ahead in 2011.

Focus is still the name of the game

Smart entrepreneurs will not be focused on valuations they are going to be focused on working with winners, because the wannabes are going to be coming out of the woodwork. Smart VCs will double down on the markets that they know well. This is not the year to spread yourself thin looking for the next sexy deal, it’s the year to double down on deals you understand and that you can ride right to the end.

Canadian funds need to avoid being used as “runway” in later stage US deals. DIG IN and focus on taking good opportunities from Seed to Exit. Making things is still worth more than buying things.

I normally hate predictions, resolutions and anything “year end”, but this time I am too optimistic to hold it back. I am already waving goodbye to 2010 and as far as I am concerned it is 2011 already.