Four years ago, Toyota had little confidence in the market potential of electric cars. The message from Toyota’s chairman about the market potential for electric cars was this: “We do not believe there is a market to accept it.”

In April 2016, over a period of only two days, 276,000 people committed to the purchase of the Model 3, Tesla Motors’ all-electric vehicle equaling the annual sales of some of the most popular U.S car models.

The industry giant got it wrong, and Tesla—the first successful American automobile company in over a century, started by just a small group of engineers producing a handmade car—got it right.

Here’s what I believe were some of the key enablers that moved Tesla to succeed.

  • A unique form of intelligence.
  • The ability to simplify and eliminate irrelevant input across the most important areas of the business.
  • The internal belief that they were right.
  • A culture and values that were and are, wholly supportive of the mission.
  • The ability to acquire and leverage data that was void of noise, rich with signals, and that enabled the creation of a clear space from which they could innovate with confidence.
  • A process of innovation that moved from the market and customer back to the business.
  • Capital.  A huge nice-to-have.

Tesla had these advantages that enabled innovation, and if you’re a startup so do you, albeit with the exception of a large capital infusion. Few have that luxury.

I’ll offer these additional thoughts for your consideration, because you’re going to hit low points and you’re going to question your ability to see it through. You may know these things, but it’s always helpful to be reminded of them.

  • One of the most powerful and enabling questions is: “What if?” It involves the ability to question, pivot, reconsider and alter your design or your path. The agility you have easily accommodates the question. Don’t be afraid to ask it.
  • Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. Identify and eliminate all things that are irrelevant to the mission and can and will cloud decision making.
  • You have the ability to assess a problem from a fresh perspective. Intuition can be valuable, but data void of irrelevant noise that gets to what really matters, is indispensable.
  • You can innovate with freedom, be more agile and more responsive than companies with boards, hierarchies, fixed processes, challenging cultures, and innovation assigned only to research and development teams.
  • You can work in a more granular fashion to understand the market, the customer, and the current offering, to more deeply feed ideation. But the only truly effective way to do this is through the acquisition and analysis of rich, qualitative data. Words are far more insightful than numbers.
  • It has been reported that businesses that work with incubators have been found to have survival rates of over 80 percent, compared with a startup average of 20 percent. Take advantage of that resource, find the accelerator that caters to your specific business needs. It is a crucial component for success.

You have the advantage.

Marc Romano is managing partner of New York of FirstPrinciple Group, an analytics and strategic advisory group. His company works with business teams and product owners to shift the internal conversation, challenge assumptions, make their world easier to navigate, and create alignment on business-critical direction. Reach Marc at