Don’t Slow Down Your Startup
Too many young businesses don't get to become old businesses because they get sidetracked by tangents of technology, markets and competitors. Why build yourself a bigger mountain to climb?
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In case it's not abundantly clear to just about everyone, starting a business from scratch and then growing it into something with some decent traction, modest momentum, and a real reason for being is plenty tough. And, of course, that's just the beginning of a long, often painful, and assuredly bumpy ride. But here's the deal: you don't have to make things even harder on your business or build yourself a bigger mountain to climb than you absolutely must.
Don't try to be or to own everything-- no one can afford that approach today. Don't be too proud or stupid to ask for help, find smart partners, ride the rails that someone else already built at great cost, or use a platform that's already reaching the markets you're aiming for instead of trying to build your own. The latest and greatest case of not reinventing the wheel is Instagram, whose Snapchat clone already has more daily users after only 8 than Snapchat did at the end of 2016. And Snapchat is 6 old. The message is simple. Take the path of least resistance as long as it moves you forward; plan to fill in the missing pieces down the line (if needed) when you can actually afford them.
Do what you absolutely have to do right now and do whatever can wait when you get a chance. It turns out that a lot of things-- equipment, investments, marketing campaigns, etc.-- that were absolutely vital and mission-critical in the moment turn out to be unnecessary, outmoded, or just wrong if you give yourself a little time and space to see what happens in the meantime. (See .) As you develop and build out, you should take every chance you have to shed the stuff that doesn't matter or simply makes the struggle tougher or more expensive. Every marginal cost and capital investment that's avoidable needs to go. Spending money is easy; making money is hard. Here's the basic rule: dump the dumb stuff and double down on what can make a real difference in your destiny. (See .)
And when the world is sending you a message or giving you a golden opportunity, you need to go with the flow. That's why The Lone Ranger used to say: it's so much easier to ride the horse in the direction it's headed. Find the fastest bandwagon out there and jump aboard. Inertia is very tough to redirect or overcome-- but it's a real blessing when it's working for you.
Habits are hard to break for a good reason-- they're based in what has worked well for us in the past and we're reluctant to part with them. But we're happy to expand and enhance our ongoing experiences if you can give us a solid reason and a convincing argument for why we should. The closer you can align your "asks" of the consumer/customer to existing actions and behaviors, the happier everyone will be and the quicker people will adopt your solution and incorporate it into their day-to-day lives. Why try to hurdle the fence when the gate's wide open.
On the other hand, if it's student body left and you're the only one headed in another direction, you can scream all day at the top of your lungs, but it won't make much difference or move the crowd your way. And if the technology has already advanced to the point where no one needs your help or your product or service, you might just as well pack it in and try something else. No company can produce, pivot or innovate fast enough to outrun a future that's already miles ahead of them and preordained. Our smart phones (and eventually our smart watches although it won't be any time soon, see ) are already comprehensive trackers and capable of any measurements critical enough to matter to us and in our lives on a regular basis. We just don't need another dedicated device.
I wrote a piece here recently (See .) about how Fitbit doesn't have much of a future and how it really wasn't anyone's fault other than the guys who failed to realize that we need another rechargeable pain-in-the-ass device on our wrists (or tacked to our t-shirts) about as much as we need a third elbow. In fact, there are already activity-tracking t-shirts on the market. So, a product with a very, very short remaining shelf life and really no next act isn't much of a business and it's not even a novelty for much longer.
But there are smart examples of companies going with the flow. One, for sure, is the which is a thin, smart device that attaches to the back of your watch and instantly adds Bluetooth-enabled fitness tracking, music controls, and a "find my phone" function. Takes a couple of minutes to attach (or remove and switch to another watch) and you're good to go. An hour into the process and you completely forget that it's even there. So, for you folks who love your fancy watches (yes, I know you're all over 30), you can have the best of both worlds in a minute. Habit? Check. Existing behavior? Check. Barriers to adoption? None.
It's pretty straightforward. Build your business to capitalize on someone else's capital investments-- such as TV monitors already installed in every venue imaginable. Plan your product or service so that it rides right along with existing activities: no new learning curves, no new apps to download (even if you could find them in the clutter), no hurdles to overcome. And then it's off to the races.
Warren Buffett said it all: "I don't look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over."
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.