OnStartups

Is Your Startup Practicing Inward Facing Dog?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on May 15, 2009 in strategy 12 Comments

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?