Exploration vs. Execution

Every once in a while, you hear a story that you connect with a previous story, and it brings a new level of clarity to a topic — A collision of ideas. Yesterday it happened to me when thinking about the early days of building a startup on the pre-product-market fit phase. There are two distinct stages: Exploring or Executing.

The difference is pretty obvious once you think about it, but it’s usually not articulated well and can be quite easily confused with finding product-market fit. It’s also an important distinction so you can invest the right amount of resources at each stage.

Exploration

I hate to define something as a negative of something else, but a great description of if you are in Exploration mode is if you don’t have a concrete hypothesis to test yet. Simply put, you are playing on a problem-sandbox. You might have rough directionality, but either you lack conviction or accuracy on the direction to take.

Execution

Once you know where you’re going and the rough steps to get there, you can start executing. Execution is about efficiency, speed, and resource utilization. It still has a creative component to it, but it’s 90% grinding. It’s when you put your head down and go.

Blurred Lines

There are two risks of not knowing if you are in Exploration or Execution mode.

If you are still in Exploration, but you decide to execute as fast as possible, you’ll end up with a solution in search of a problem. It’s the equivalent of driving fast without paying attention to direction. You’ll get somewhere, but then you’ll spend time figuring out where you’ve got and if it’s a place you’d like to be.

The second risk is when you are already in Execution, but you compromise on focus and try to move in multiple directions, building a solution that serves multiple customers poorly. Or, you keep shifting directions every other week, showing the lack of conviction to begin. You jumped to execution without having done the proper customer development and market research.

Transitioning

If you understand the differences between Exploration and Execution, then the question becomes when you graduate from one to the other? Is it based on a time duration? Based on metrics? Or based on gut feeling? Neither. When you can articulate a product vision, you can get insiders (hopefully, customers) excited about it. It’s when marketing, product, business development, and the executive team can operate semi-independently because everyone knows where they are going, and they like it.

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.