You ever hear the phrase, “Ideas are worthless, execution is everything”?
You must have, because when I went to search for the most common formulation of this idea (ha!), Google gave me not only a bunch of pertinent suggestions but 700,000 results:
Considering we’re literally soaking in this particular cliché, you’d be forgiven for believing that to really, HUGELY succeed, you have to do everything… and get everything perfectly right.
And that idea (gross) is crippling, because… what if you can’t kick ass at execution? What if you have limited time? What if you’re a newb? What if you know you’re gonna make mistakes? Are you doomed? Should you even bother?!
I see a lot of really smart, capable people shying away from products because they think, “I don’t really know how to execute perfectly, and look at all this stuff I’m supposed to get just right, so I might as well not waste my time trying. Because execution is everything. Everything. Eve. ry. thing.”
That sucks the big one, not just for you, but for all of us out here with pressing pains and problems because
Nothing could be further from the truth!
Now, obv, you do have to execute. You have to do something. You can’t succeed — aka make lots of product dolla dolla bills y’all — if your ambitions live only in your head and never see the light of day, much less a customer.
But is execution every last little damn thing?
As I said, nothing could be further from the truth. Or truths.
Here are three actual bonafide truths about execution:
- NUMBER 1: All those things the startup kids tell you you have to have? You can skip almost all of them, from growth hacks to best practices.
- NUMBER 2: You don’t have to kick ass at execution. You can do a lot of things not-half-bad, even more-than-a-little-bit-crappy, and still kick ass at helping customers and making moolah.
- NUMBER 3: In fact, you can suck at almost everything, if you get just the one most important thing right.
And I’m going to tell you what that one most important thing is, right after I give you a little case study of execrable execution starring………… me!!
Have you ever really paid attention to me? I know, I know, you just vomited in your mouth a little, but it’s a serious question.
Have you ever noticed how often I make mistakes when sending newsletters?
Have you noticed how terrible my blog is? Outdated, hard to navigate, and with a homepage topped by literally the worst call to action ever?
Have you noticed how all my other calls to action are buried at the end of blog posts (so 2009) when all the cool kids have fancy popups and stuff?
That I’m not offering topical content upgrades or scheduled webinars?
Have you noticed, in fact, that I am still using the same crappy onboarding email course I wrote 3 years ago, and it doesn’t even make sense any more?
Oh and that my branding is super lame and outdated? (Unicorn Free? God, why did I ever think that was cool?)
How about the fact that the 30×500 sales page hasn’t been touched in over a year and is, in fact, merely okay in terms of copy and visually a hot, unreadable mess? (And that the JFS sales page doesn’t have screenshots or its own domain name or any CTA other than buy?)
Have you noticed I don’t guest post, guest on podcasts, hobnob with industry gurus and barely ever speak at confs? And, when I do speak, I make mistakes, talk too fast, contradict myself, laugh at my own jokes?
And there’s no way for you to notice this one, but guess what? We don’t even split test the UF site. At all. Ever! OMG!!
There are also lots of flaws and omissions inside my products themselves, believe me. They could all be much bigger, broader, better.
Ughhhhhhh I suck at all the things.
And that one thing is where I pour all my energy, which is why so many of the things above suck goat nuggets.
And how, despite all that, I’ve grown a $1.1 million dollar-a-year business.
It’s all down to the singular most important thing.
What is that one thing??
I promised I’d tell you, so here’s a hint… check out this reader email we received from a JFS reader:
I finished the book yesterday, and despite not knowing me or who I am, you wrote the book for me.
And here’s a note passed to us by a 30×500 alum:
BTW, 30×500 is VERY awesome. You guys nailed every detail that a student can possibly stumble on.
There’s just ONE THING that really, TRULY matters, and it is understanding your audience so well they think you made your product just for them.
The most glorious thing in the world is to feel understood.
And it’s one of the rarest, too.
Think of all the times in your life that you’ve dealt with products, services, and companies that treated you — THE CUSTOMER! their very lifeblood! — as an afterthought, or worse, an inconvenience, or worst of all, an enemy.
Did you care, then, about how beautifully and perfectly the product was executed?
NO. FUCKING. WAY.
But if you feel listened to, important, cared for, understood… you will crave that product. You will forgive any mistake short of utter destruction. Typos, stumbles, bugs, imperfection, none of those will matter.
It’s not a better mousetrap that will make people beat a path to your door, but pure, simple, human connection.
That’s the only execution that matters:
Meet people where they are… speak their language… make them feel understood… anticipate their questions, their thoughts, and their stumbling blocks before they even happen…
Not even the world itself can stand in your way.
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Previous essays in this series: