The Effortless Secret of Successful Startups

There’s a saying you may have heard, “If you want to keep your competitors at bay, build a moat.” Quite a picturesque piece of advice, isn’t it? Brings to mind images of medieval fortresses, drawbridges, and perhaps a resident dragon. Well, prepare for a twist in the tale, as we set out to redefine this widely accepted piece of wisdom.

Buffett’s Moats and Medieval Romance

Let’s kick things off with the notion of the ‘moat’. The term, loaned from Warren Buffett’s lexicon, paints investing with a brush of medieval romance. He was all about those businesses with “unbreachable ‘moats’”, robust defenses keeping rivals at a nonthreatening, non-profitable distance.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Buffett’s metaphor is quite the page-turner, but here’s where I believe he may have overshot the mark. The issue doesn’t lie with the concept of a moat, but with the presumption that it’s a strategic construct to be excavated in the initial blueprint of your startup.

The Unplanned Moat

In my experience, a moat isn’t a grand scheme, nor is it a Eureka moment. It’s not even something quantifiable, despite Charlie Munger’s jests about academics losing sleep over the precise dimensions of moats. No, a moat is something more serendipitous, less tangible, and infinitely more interesting.

A moat, dear reader, is the effortless byproduct of a well-run startup. It’s the unforeseen result of right decisions, of markets well-served, of customers who depart your digital premises with a broad smile. It’s not a cause, it’s a consequence.

In this hyperconnected, instant-gratification age, the olden moats of geography and distance are evaporating faster than a snowball in the Sahara. The authentic moat of the 21st century, the one that keeps competitors at arm’s length, isn’t a water-filled trench, but an ever-widening gap filled with satisfied customers and well-executed business strategies.

Building Castles, Not Moats

So here’s my rather unconventional counsel: Don’t obsess over the moat. Cast aside the shovel and focus on your castle. And by ‘castle’, I mean your startup. The sturdier, more efficient, and better served your ‘castle’, the more organically your moat appears.

If you’re doing things right, you’ll find yourself one day, peering out over your domain (or spreadsheet), and spot a moat safeguarding you. And here’s the sweet surprise: You won’t even recall planning it.

A successful startup, like a good mystery, invites questions, incites curiosity, and leaves you thirsting for more. It is in this spirit of curiosity and adventure that I encourage you to embark on your entrepreneurial quest. No need to fuss over the moat. Instead, pour your energy into building a startup worth defending, and let the moat sort itself out.

And remember, a journey towards building a successful startup is not a race towards the finish line, but a dance with the unexpected. As you twirl and twist with the rhythms of the market, you might just find that the moat has been choreograph

Daniel Erickson is the Founder and CEO of Viable, a Generative Analysis system that helps teams make better decisions with qualitative data.