We'd Be Screwed If...

September 2, 2014

One of the difficult parts of being the fearless leader about to lead his/her troops through the complex world of a start up, is maintaining your unwavering commitment to the core concept while remaining truly objective about it.

We often lose perspective, actually "drinking our own Kool-aid".  In other words we come to believe the pitch and all of the CRITICAL ASSUMPTIONS without questioning them as people with a fresh perspective might. Do you simply blow them off with thoughts like "they don't understand this market sector" or "they have not taken the time to truly understand how our product works"?

We see it most often when our clients are seeking angel investment. The potential angels ask a whole bunch of apparently "stupid questions". The CEO gives a trite answer or uses that question to make another point, or worse - they stutter and have no answer so they try to make one up on the spot even though it is very obvious to everyone in the room that it’s what they are doing. In the real business world there is no such thing as a "stupid question" when you are starting a company. We don't care how smart you actually are, it is impossible to see all the risks at all the levels and most times it only takes one to cripple or kill a business.

Randy Pilon is CEO & President of Virox Tecnologies Inc. a company in Oakville, Ontario selling to a global market. He is a true strategic marketer, smart enough to know what he does not know. He attributes part of the company’s success to a company-wide process he adopted in the early days of the business. He calls it the "We'd Be Screwed If..." process. It’s one of several smart company-wide processes that involve the staff in critical business decisions.

On a regular basis all customer-facing or supplier-facing employees are asked to fill out today's answer to the insightful question “We’d Be Screwed If…”  Randy knows he can’t think of everything but he knows for sure the collective team can.  Especially when, as in his case, this process is implemented as a regular practice within the Company.

As a CEO he can openly ask for all of the issues that are keeping his employees up at night. He and his Management team can then look for key issues that could have a major effect on his business. Some employees may struggle to articulate the issue, but if several address the same issue, management can see it clearly when examining all responses. For example the Controller may have noticed that a group of 3 customers are dominating the sales chart in the last quarter, leaving the Company exposed. So his answer to "We'd Be Screwed If… “ is “We lose any one of these 3 customers.”

The Head Engineer might submit "We'd Be Screwed If our supplier of a specific chemical that is key to our delivery of our end product goes out of business or if a supplier has a fire in its factory".

Employees would identify the issues. Management can then discuss and assess the business risks in reality. They can then develop and quickly implement Plan B's for many of the higher risk concerns.

In the case of the Controller's concern several actions could be taken, from making Customer Service improvements to keep the top 3 accounts loyal to offsetting the risk with sales strategies to obtain multiple smaller accounts in various new industries.

Meanwhile the Procurement Manager can work with the Head Engineer to develop a strategy to find another source of that specific chemical and begin ordering small amounts and establishing a rapport with other suppliers.

Each of these small actions will make the company more stable. A stable Company is a lot more fun to work for and manage, not to mention invest in.

We encourage you to try this with your key people - your front line people who deal with your customers and suppliers.  At the very least you will learn what worries your key people. You may even gain the insight that saves your business by being prepared for every eventuality before it happens, the eventuality you may not have thought of on your own. It works best when done on a regular basis. Implement your version of "We'd Be Screwed If..." Process and let us know how it goes.


Derek A. Lackey

A serial entrepreneur with many failures and successes, Derek has spent 20 years in traditional advertising, along with the past 8 in digital marketing. His ability to fuse the two with fluidity and... »


Derek A. Lackey

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