Bill Gross has founded a lot of startups, and incubated many others — and he got curious about why some succeeded and others failed. So he gathered data from hundreds of companies, his own and other people’s, and ranked each company on five key factors. He found one factor that stands out from the others — and surprised even him.

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Elon Musk: How to Start a Business! Seriously Take Notes!
Did you know Tesla has a zero dollar marketing budget?

It’s true.

Despite operating in the emerging alternate energy car market (and rampant skepticism that electric cars could even compete), Tesla had an incredibly successful IPO in 2010 and continues to struggle to produce cars fast enough to meet demand.

It seems amazing that they’ve been able to pull that off without marketing, but Elon Musk’s explanation for their success is simple: a relentless focus on making the highest-quality cars possible.

The vast majority of Tesla’s budget (and about 70% of Musk’s time and energy as CEO) is devoted to research and development. Musk only spends 2 to 3% of his time talking to the press, with plans to cut it down to 1% so he can free up time for – you guessed it! – more focus on engineering and design.

Marketing done right can be extremely powerful; I’m not saying it has no place in your business model. The vast majority of us don’t have Elon Musk-level capital to fund our businesses and get them off the ground. But if it comes down to a choice between more marketing for a mediocre product, or money money spent improving product quality, I’d choose quality every time.

Quality outlasts trends and bids for brief attention. It leaves a lasting impression – one that turns customers into lifelong fans and the most effective marketers you could dream of.

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