Is Your Startup Practicing Inward Facing Dog?

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Is Your Startup Practicing Inward Facing Dog?


For those curious about the title, it’s a reference to “downward facing dog” (one of the most widely reognized yoga poses).  downward facing dog

Is your startup practicing inward facing dog?  That is, are you overly focused on things going inside the company with too little attention on what might be going on outside the company?

Signs That Your Startup Is Practicing Inward Facing Dog

1.  More than a few days go by and you haven’t talked to a customer other than to provide support or try to sell them something.

2.  When people bring up things like “Did you hear about X (a direct competitor) doing Y?” most of the time, you hadn’t heard the news and some of the times, you didn’t even know who X was.  Note:  I don’t advocate being obsessed about your competition — and I particularly don’t advise following them (i.e. X did Y, so I have to do Y…).  But, I think there’s a lot that can be learned simply by observing your competitors. 

3.  You haven’t located 5 people in your industry whose blogs you think are worth reading regularly.  I don’t care what industry you’re in, there are bloggers out there writing things you should be reading.  Even if you disagree with them.  Even if you think your industry is “broken” and you’re out to transform it.  In fact, especially if you think your industry is broken.  Read, read, read. 

4.  You haven’t been to an industry conference in a couple of years (or ever).  Yes, budgets are tight, and most of the content from these things makes it onto the web anyways, but it’s not about the content.  Yes, it’s unlikely you’re going to get a lot of customer leads.  But, it’s not about those those things.  It’s about learning.  It’s about the real-time, in-person conversations.  (This coming from an introvert — who hates real-time conversations).

5.  You’re not watching the news about VC financings, acquisitions and IPOs in your market (or adjacent markets).  Even if you don’t plan on raising funding.  Even if your startup is going to crush everyone else, getting a sense of how the money is flowing in your industry is important to know.  What kinds of companies are getting funded?  Who is funding them?  What other deals have they done?  Who is getting bought?  You don’t need to get obsessed with this, but just a quick scan once a week is well worth it. 

6.  You don’t meet with other startup founders that are at your stage — or beyond.  Though we founders like to believe that our situations are unique and nobody else can possibly have the same kinds of challenges and problems we do — it’s just not true.  There are many, many patterns that continually reoccur in startups.  Even weird things that you think are too arcane to be common. 

What other signs do you think there are that a startup is too inward focused?  What do you do to make sure you stay in touch with what’s going on outside your four walls? 

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Fri, May 15, 2009


If you are not active on networking sites or are not discovering new avenues of growth. 
If you are not focusing on improvising your offerings or don’t have an advice on how your product can give a good ROI in these financial times, I think there is a problem. 
Pavan Pendyala 
Business for IT Pros

posted on Friday, May 15, 2009 at 10:45 AM by Pavan Pendyala

What? This is called "Inward facing dog" now - when I was coming up we called it "Burying your head in the sand!" =) 
Great reminders to focus forward. 

posted on Friday, May 15, 2009 at 12:01 PM by Matt | Small Biz Bee

Successful execution of that position requires a person to have flexible hamstrings and not very tight hip flexors. Interesting therefore to see the pose as the analogy to describe how a business may be hamstrung. :-) 
Apart from that, I agree with the excellent reminders and I am sending the link to the start-ups I am currently working with.

posted on Friday, May 15, 2009 at 1:34 PM by Shefaly

"You haven't been to an industry conference in years (or ever)." Too funny! Yes, when you stop paying attention to your customers, your sales people, your industry, the numbers, or doing any networking, it's not good. Worrying about who has a bigger office or if you'll get Starbucks in your coffee machine doesn't get you very far, does it?

posted on Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 10:26 AM by Carole Gunst

I wonder if the opposite problem is not more common: that startups are so busy watching the competition, watching other financings, seeing what else is going on that they don't spend enough time on basic nuts and bolts execution and getting things done

posted on Monday, May 18, 2009 at 6:00 AM by Mark MacLeod

I think at times founders can get too distracted as well. Entrepreneurs need to find a nice balance of focusing on the company, and focusing on the industry; focusing on current features, and adding new featured that users request. 
Big questions that I always ask myself are: 'When should you listen to your target market and when should you ignore them?' 'Should we focus more on a design or on the usability of the site?' 
There are so many things that we have to take note of. 
Stumbled and submitted your site to Viralogy. Hope it brings you significant traffic. 
- Jun

posted on Monday, May 18, 2009 at 12:40 PM by Jun Loayza

You mention "This coming from an introvert — who hates real-time conversations". Any tips for other introverts to make sure that they do get out there and are effective when they do?

posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 8:53 AM by Paul

Very similar to what Steve Blank talks of in his Customer Development series. I personally think it's great stuff, good for introverts to get out of the building! Check it out here

posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 12:22 PM by Tori

Almost a greater sin is going through the motions of observing market trends but not actually acting on the information. Founders must invite criticism in order to validate their business plan, product, value proposition, etc. There is an art to being open to evaluation and implementing the right changes without getting distracted, but don't let your ego get in the way of hearing what your customers really want.

posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 6:07 PM by Eileen Zimmerman

Aaha, I work for a startup, and the founders are most of the time in fight among themselves, for who has taken how many leaves, where is the petty cash going out, we wont bring in coffee any more- since only one guy likes it, lets ask people not to print papers, lets reduce our strength and take more salary... it seems to me they dont have a dog even, let alone facing inside

posted on Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 3:37 AM by Piscean

I must admit that checking industry blogs and sites were not on my priority list. They are now. 
I would probably add to this list "You are not surveying your customers." If you don't know what they want, you can't sell to them.

posted on Friday, May 22, 2009 at 8:39 PM by Ralph

I absolutely agree with a lot said here. And, I would add that, while it's a resting position, downhard dog is difficult and requires strength in addition to flexibility to hold.  
The one point made originally that I would take exception with is "I don’t advocate being obsessed about your competition." As an entrepreneur, one should constantly be obsessed with knowing about current and potential competition, what they are doing, what they are not doing, how they are positioning themselves - for many reason. Most fundamentally, strategy is really just the actions a company takes in the market (and actions that lead to those actions) in order to compete. In that market, the entrepreneur runs into customers, suppliers... and competitors. And, these competitors are helping to raise demand in most markets that are attractive to entrepreneurs. That is, these markets are underserved by competitive offerings relative to the number of customers. There's so much to say (and that has been said) about this topic... suffice to say for now: Be obsessed with your competition.

posted on Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 1:03 PM by Mike Provance

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