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⚡️Dangers of Copying Success
What worked for them may not work for you
I talk about the software industry and finance. Follow along with the other 10K+ smart folks
There are companies and CEOs that many of us in the software industry put on a pedestal, soak up all their advice, and try to imitate the things that appear to have made them successful.
Some companies/CEOs that come to mind include:
Salesforce / Marc Benioff
Snowflake / Frank Slootman
ServiceNow / Bill McDermott
Zoom / Eric Yuan
There are also many prominent VCs with influential content:
Paul Graham - Cofounder of Y Combinator, investor, writer
David Sacks - Craft Ventures
Many VC firms have great research/content
I read a ton of this content myself. There is a strong pull to copy things they say because they have been incredibly successful. But…
Are they successful because of the specific advice?
Is it applicable to my company?
Is the advice no longer valid for some reason?
Our brains are such good pattern-matching engines that we see patterns that aren’t there — Dave Kellogg
A significant number of issues come from copying the org structures of successful companies (or VC advice). It is easy to just copy someone else’s org structure that was successful — “We did the same thing as Snowflake and look at them”.
Historically, org structure sins were hidden by the abundance of capital and expectation of high cash burn in pursuit of revenue growth. But now there is a spotlight on these sins as companies try to understand their inefficiencies. Capital scarcity is driving focus and intentionality, rather than just copying someone else and praying it works.
Copying Org Design: Frank Slootman vs Customer Success Teams
In Slootman’s book Amp It Up he discusses why companies don’t need customer success teams — general argument is that everyone’s job should be customer success and customer success teams can hide issues. I have heard this idea get discussed more recently as companies look to become more efficient and question the value of their customer success teams.
I am not here to argue the value of customer success teams, but rather that there are very successful companies with and without customer success teams. They might have large, small, or no teams.
One thing I know for certain though is that there are very few companies like ServiceNow or Snowflake (Frank Slootman’s prior and current company) so trying to copy that organization model might end badly for other companies.
Side note - after Slootman left ServiceNow they hired a pretty big customer success management team….So maybe it worked for a while and then things changed?
The Must-Have Role
There are several roles/functions that are often universally assumed to be “game changers” or critical for success. One example I heard about in the past was the CEO Chief of Staff role. It became a very “sexy” sought after role as CEOs heard from some of their peers how awesome their Chief of Staff was to them.
Then lots of CEOs started seeking a Chief of Staff (from 80 person startups to mature organizations). Many of these CEOs didn’t really think through how they could leverage this role so their Chief of Staff either became an overpaid executive assistant or a distraction. This same issue can apply to lots of other roles/functions.
These roles/functions can be extremely valuable when properly utilized at the right company and appropriate stage, but blindly copying someone else’s playbook with a lack of understanding and intention is a recipe for disaster.
The Hot New Strategy
The shiny new strategy can be very tempting to adopt, especially for companies who are valuation focused or trying to please VCs before seeking fundraising.
The current thing is obviously generative AI. AI is one thing that likely should have the most widespread product adoption across organizations — every tech company I know is implementing or thinking about their AI strategy. Even so, many companies will try to copy the early presumed success of others in regard to AI and subsequently fail. Innovation and creativity will be required….simply copying usually won’t work.
PLG (product-led growth) is another example of a recently hot new term. PLG was all the rage for a while — still is but talked about a bit less now. As a result of the PLG hype, many companies forced PLG motions when it either wasn’t the right fit for their company or the timing was wrong. Setting up a PLG motion is no small task so this can create a ton of distraction and inefficiencies. For the right companies at the right time, PLG can be a beautiful thing…but that doesn’t mean everyone should do it right now.
Blindly copying other’s success is not a winning strategy. Most of us intuitively know that but fall into the trap anyways — copying is easier, probably won’t be fired for doing the same thing as others, and the abundance of capital has hid our inefficient sins.
Scarcity drives innovation and creativity. Companies are being forced to use their brains more and not blindly copy others in the hope that it also works for them. Those who take the medicine and pave their own path will prevail while the copycats will likely remain inefficient and die.
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