Entrepreneurs : Define What’s Non-Negotiable. Define a Soul.

Ever wondered why companies fail (we are not talking about failure of ideas, which I believe is just a step towards finding something that works). Leaving reasons like market opportunities/competitive nature etc., one of the fundamental challenge is of companies not defining a soul to its activity.
And I am not talking about mission & vision statements, but a working version of ‘things we will do and things we will NOT do’. This is specifically important when the company scales up and you add team members who need to know ‘what not to do’ as part of organization culture.

In fact, think of these as ‘Non-negotiable clause’ put down by founding team. And nobody, not even the founders can negotiate these clauses.

For Steve Jobs, Design was non-negotiable part
For Steve Jobs, Design was non-negotiable.

When I started Pluggd.in, there were a few things I defined ‘non-negotiable’ and ensure that team member understand these. For instance:

1. We will not suck up to big companies or brands {No matter what}
Even if you are a sponsor/partner, we will respect you for the association, but that doesn’t mean that ‘you own us/own our content’.

2. We will give candid/honest feedback to startups {No matter what}.
Many startups hate this stand of ours (a general FAQ is why don’t you guys just goddamn publish the f**king readymade QnA that I sent you?), but real startups appreciate it.

3. We won’t advertise/buy Google adwords/Facebook fans.
The thing is you don’t buy conversation. You cannot buy engagement. Real sites do not buy adwords. They just do things differently [thanks for reminding, Mike]

4. We aren’t going to be anybody’s mouthpiece {No matter what}.
No-brainer, but keep your agenda to yourself.

Come to think of it – most of the successful companies or startups have a non-negotiable clause which may not be stated on the site, but it just shows up in the service. For instance, this is what I could make of some of the successful Indian startups:

1. Flipkart: Focus on delivery/experience. Do not compromise.

2. redBus: We won’t pay bribe (it’s a no-brainer to assume that when redBus bagged few government operators as customers, they must have been asked to pay bribe by the babus out there).

Non-negotiable Clause – Why You Need it?

Because you will always be tempted to chose between greatness-delayed vs. mediocrity-delivered-instantly. You, as a founder will always have an option to take the easy way out.

It takes a momentary lapse of reason to erode the soul from your company and all you will be left with is a bag of bone that you will carry. But always remember that great companies, great startups are built with a soul. And the first step to define your soul is by stating ‘What’s non-negotiable, What’s NOT acceptable’.

That’s your DNA. That’s your character. It defines you.

Let’s do an exercise – look at some of the failed companies or failed startups (especially the ones who raised a lot of money) and try figuring out their non-negotiable clause. What was one parameter you think was non-negotiable to them? If you don‘t get an answer in 5 minutes, well..you have an answer.

Always remember that companies do not die because of market realities/lack of funds etc, but they die because of lack of focus.

Focus comes when you know where not to focus.

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