Yesterday I was listening to the Corner Office podcast in which Elon Musk was interviewed. There was a part in the episode when he talks for about 7 minutes of the 25 minutes of the podcast about the car door. If you have the time, I’d highly recommend listening to the entire podcast, but the part about the door (15+ min into it) is awesome as well.
In the video showing off his new SUV, he talks about the door, showing how much thought has gone into the creation, design and support of the accessibility to the 3rd row of seats.
Even though Elon Musk is an exception, his trait for being obsessed over the details stands out. One of the things that’s pretty obvious to me is that the best founders obsess over every small detail. Primarily there are 3 areas that I expect founders to pay the most attention to: Product, Customer empathy and Hiring.
These 3 go pretty much hand in glove, so I am not sure if any of them is more important than the other, but it usually starts with customer empathy, then product and finally hiring.
The part I notice about the best entrepreneurs about customer empathy and detail is how some of them (maybe 35%) are their own best customers, who “scratch their own itch”, but the rest of them spend a lot of time with customers understanding, observing and engaging their users. The observations and questions tell you more about the scope and breadth of what they know about their customer.
That’s typically what I look for. How much do you know about the customers’ daily life, their life outside of your product, their schedule, their fears, what motivates them, etc.
While most good entrepreneurs can articulate their customer specific problem set fairly well, which their product solves, the best ones can tell me more about their customer’s overall state of mind and are open to other opportunities that might come up in their ability to expand the footprint of their product with their customers.
Product obsession comes naturally if you are solving a problem you know deeply. That comes from either spending enough time with it for years, or having the problem yourself. The most obvious manifestation of product obsession we see is in the User experience.
The trick I have noticed is that the best founders obsess over documentation, architecture, code coverage, commenting and code reviews as well. If you ask questions about a specific portion of their product – from the logo to the website template and their choice of naming their product plans, they can have detailed discussions on the thought they have put into each of these areas.
Finally when it comes to hiring there are 3 important things I look for – how much time they spend on reference checks, what kinds of questions they ask and how well they put together their job descriptions.
Is starts with a clear understanding of who they are trying to hire, so I ask for their job descriptions first. Not having them gives me indications as well. Some people claim to have “hired” from their network, alone, but if you don’t know who you need to hire, with what particular skills or experiences, then you are “taking” what you get, which is a signal as well. I want to also understand their interview process and steps they have to get candidates through the process. Are they keeping the bar high, or compromising? Are they attracting good talent or picking who comes in? All these give me clues about the entrepreneurs attention to detail.
While it is impossible for an entrepreneur to have attention to detail in every part of their business, their culture usually permeates through the rest of the organization.