The most important question a startup can ask

At the center of every startup is a secret. A secret is not an unknown. Rather, it’s something just not widely believed to be achievable or feasible. In other words, it’s an insight. Exploiting that secret should be the aim of every entrepreneur. Leveraging the secret means disruption and ultimately success.

The genesis of every secret is the word why. “Why are things done this way? Why can’t we do better?” Why is the predecessor to change. It’s the progenitor of every great idea because the word why challenges the status quo.

At Google, the founders challenged every assumption. Why can’t we disrupt the advertising industry by changing the way things have been done for decades? Why take a company public in the same way as everyone else? Why not apply quantitative analysis to hiring decisions?

Startups ask why hundreds of times per day. Why will our company change the way an industry works, or create a new industry? Why will we solve this problem better than anyone else? Why does this candidate want to work here? Why will customers choose our products over competitors?

People and companies age because they stop learning. They stop asking why. And then, new thought devolves into repetition, innovation collapses to maintenance.

With this one word, we poke, pry and wrench secrets from the abyss. Why is how companies innovate.

Published 2012-08-22 in Startups 

Tomasz Tunguz is partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.

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