Which is most important — market or team?

One of the few classes I remember vividly from business school was when we were asked to debate the following: “Would you rather have an A team operating in a B market (Option 1)? Or a B team operating in an A market? (Option 2)”

I seem to recall the consensus being Option 1— that team trumps market every time; with the logic being that an A team will find or operate their way into an A market. At the time I was a wet behind the ears 26 year old and so didn’t know much about anything, let alone the answer to this perennially perplexing question! And so I left business school having absorbed this world view — that capability is king — and have carried it with me ever since.

Post 2020 however, and I’ve now done a full 360° on this…

Last year events platform Hopin went from zero to unicorn in 8 months; e-commerce sales accelerated by 5 years; and through trading war stories with fellow founders I discovered that the impact of COVID has been pretty binary — either terrible or brilliant. And as I reflected on our own experience at OLIO (where we grew more in 5 months than we did in the previous 5 years), I realised for the first time what an *enormous* difference it makes to be executing with the tail winds behind you, rather than slogging away into the head winds.

Thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, 2020 was also the year we learned a lot about systemic racism and structural inequality. And this has made me wonder whether the belief that team trumps market isn’t in itself a reflection of immense privilege? If I were to ask a group of people living in abject poverty, “Which is most powerful, capability or circumstances?” I can’t help but think that they wouldn’t have quite the same degree of conviction that their capability could overcome the market.

My new found respect of the market seems to be validated by the research too:

Source: Research by Bill Gross, Series Entrepreneur, on Gamechanger.net

And I believe it will be a powerful ally in the next stage of OLIO’s growth. As we start to chart our course into international waters we will be scrutinising the markets very, very carefully, looking for those with a strong desire for community, where food is valued, where targets have been set to reduce emissions/waste, and where tax breaks and grants are tilting the playing field in our favour. No matter how brilliant our execution, it’s absolutely critical that we select the right markets first.

So, what do you think… An A team in a B market? Or a B team in an A market?

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Tessa Clarke

Tessa Clarke

Co-Founder & CEO of OLIO, the food sharing app. Getting my head around the climate crisis. Passionate about sustainability, startups & diversity.