In Australia, this past weekend, the much expected and some would say, vaulted Labor Party victory didn’t materialise in the latest general election. There have been many theories put forward in the hours following this defeat for Bill Shorten and his team. These range from a biased press, lies in some of the claims, policies too far to the left etc. I started thinking about this outcome and have tried to assess it with a lens and framework that I thought would be interesting. Think about this. Labor’s set of policies were really a platform launch. A platform for, at times radical change, that they believed would bring greater equality to Australia. A platform with which was a risk, no matter how well meant. Bill Shorten and his team no doubt were passionate about this platform, excited by the potential to achieve social goals and a greater spread of the wealth across the country, along with an attempt to tackle climate change. If the Labour party were a startup, what could they have done differently for a more successful result?
Lean startup methodology has at its centre, learn, build, measure. The core assumptions being, don’t waste time, effort and money on building a perfect platform based upon assumptions that are not truly tested. Understand the problem you are solving, the likely product market fit, that the segments of your market are collectively big enough to bring success and do this using scientific methods to test your assumptions at every stage. It’s true, over 60 opinion polls had given Labor the 2-party preferred lead over the past 2 years. In many startups, I liken this to perhaps giving demos of your prototype to a broad range of potential clients but missing asking the questions that matter. Let me give you an example; If I said to you, I’ve developed a solution that will solve world hunger instantly. Not many of you would argue against this and I’d be given huge encouragement to start work on getting this out there to the masses. However, If I also asked if you’d personally ration your food intake to say 1500 calories a day, and as part of the solution had to medically ensure that you could have no more than 1 child, then the conversation and outcomes I’d argue, gets very different. You see, the problem you are trying to solve may be greatly understood, and may be a huge one, however, are your clients prepared to pay the cost of the solution you are putting forward? This is another assumption that needs testing and one that arguably, Labor really needed to test more.
There is another problem that may have similarities with startups. Bill Shorten as the CEO of his Labor startup. Aside the untested assumptions taken re his platform and costs, how convincing was his message? As a founder and CEO of a startup, the importance of the message cannot be understated. Whether you are pitching on a pitch night, or meeting with an important potential client, or whether you are trying to attract staff and talent to your startup, the message is critical. Do you deal in facts and product features, as arguably, Bill Shorten has done? A more potent message will include selling your vision of how the future will greatly benefit your clients, your story and how has you got where you are. Your authenticity as a leader. You must inspire confidence to each stakeholder in the conversation.
One final point that occurred to me with similarities between creating a successful startup and Labor’s message. What is the fall-back plan? We are taught throughout our lives that a resolute, unfailing plan and message is the key to success. I’d argue this may not always be the case. Just as strategic planning has evolved to be a much more agile process from the old ways of spending months and maybe even years in building a solid strategic plan that you stick to no matter what, in today’s environment, global competition, new disruptors, changing market needs etc mean that both businesses as well as maybe even political parties may need to adopt a more lean strategic plan. The key is to ensure that your values are resolute, but how you achieve them may indeed need to change from time to time. In the startup world, testing your assumptions, your product market fit etc, if these result in a realisation that your baby may not achieve its full potential, then relooking at your data may open an alternate path to your goals. This is the famous startup pivot. How could Labor have pivoted over the past 6 years to still broadly achieve their aims but with much better market acceptance? What metrics could Labor have analysed to better validate their results. Not vanity metrics, but metrics that matter?
In the startup world, understanding your key metrics is critical, as we have seen, to success. Not just understanding them but also having the courage to act upon them and making changes to your business to get you towards your goals.