Quiet moves win

In startups, as in chess, the unexciting moves often make the difference 

Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand have been battling it out in Chennai the last week for the 2013 FIDE World Chess Championship. After 4 straight draws, Carlsen’s opened it up with two straight decisive wins.

If you follow the games, particularly yesterday’s Game 6 (and you canhere and here), you can’t attribute Carlsen’s wins to any individual move or set of moves. At least I can’t, but I’m no grandmaster, so who knows. But it sure seems like there haven’t been any bold exchanges, daring sacrifices or cunning gambits that have carried the day for him. He’s played sound, methodical chess, building solid positions that slowly press his opponent. He’s won the last two games largely on the back of quiet moves.

Quiet moves are those that neither capture nor threaten a piece. In a sense, they’re boring. They don’t attract a lot of attention and they don’t demand a direct response. But they’re critical as they create strong positional value by deploying pieces to important squares where they can best exert influence over the course of the game.

Startups often think they need loud moves to succeed. They feel they need to make a splash, generate buzz, command attention, crush a demo day presentation, make a noise in the market, etc. That stuff does help in some cases, but it hurts in others, particularly when those companies aren’t in a position to capitalize on the attention. This is why Ken Lerer feels that most startups should just “shut up.”… I bet that in most cases it’s the quiet moves that really led to success.

Quiet startup moves are that can’t be written about in breathless headlines, blog posts or press releases. Things like building and reinforcing an internal culture that enables you to hire and retain a high-performing team. Deep and critical thinking about customer pain. Generating insightful hypotheses then creating relevant market experiments and meaningful KPIs to test those hypotheses. Success is built on these important and quiet foundations.

Like how Carlsen’s quiet moves build successful chess positions, these quiet startup moves help founders build successful companies best positioned to capture market opportunities. Ultimately, startups need to deliver products that delight users, and it’s often the quiet moves that best help them to do this.

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