Ask yourselves the “billion dollar question”

Two of the brightest serial entrepreneurs I know pause at least twice a month to ask themselves the same question over and over again.  They’re getting good signs about their new stealth b-to-b startup, but always pause to ask themselves “are we heading toward a billion dollar business?”

The question refocuses them on the goals of any startup- even if less audacious entrepreneurs might have a smaller valuation target in mind.  “Are we on track to do something great, or are we just chugging along?”  Or, said another way, “Have we gotten caught up too much in the weeds? Have we accidentally slipped from ‘search’ mode to full ‘execute’ mode, accepting our business vision and moving forward to make it happen?”

I love the question and encourage every early stage startup team to adopt it. Whether you ask the “billion” question, the “$50 million” question, or the “multi-million” question is irrelevant. Just stop regularly…programmatically…to be sure you only move into “execute” mode deliberately, once you’re highly confident that a great business will emerge at the completion of “execute” activities. These two well-known entrepreneurs are deeply committed to make their next business a huge one (one of them has helped build one monster already).  Good for them, and they have the stamina and financial resources to have ambitions as huge as their appetites.

Over a decade ago, as he first wrote in Four Steps to the EpiphanySteve Blank identified the crucial difference between established businesses and startups- startups search for the repeatable, scalable business model, while established businesses execute their business based on many facts (customers, channels, competitors, etc.) that are known to them.  His and my book, The Startup Owner’s Manual, provides the road map for that search- which can be long, painful and, no matter what, is hard work.

Be sure you move into “execute” mode deliberately, once you’re sure the prize you’re seeking is at the other end of the rainbow.

Bob Dorf speaks with, coaches and trains startups in lean customer development all over the world. He blogs at and tweets @bobdorf.


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