Dharmesh Shah

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Entrepreneurs and...Hey, There's A Shiny New Thing!

By Dharmesh Shah on September 25, 2008

If you’re one of those rare entrepreneurs that has the discipline to stay reasonably focused on what you should be working on, feel free to skip the rest of this article with the comforting knowledge that you have my admiration and envy.

But, if you’re like most of us, you are probably plauged at one time or another by the “Shiny New Thing” (SNT) bug.  This particular syndrome is pretty easy to describe.  There you are, minding your own business (literally) and working on your startup.  Then all of a sudden, BAM!  Some shiny new thing comes along and tries to distract you.  You either get distracted, or you stay up nights wondering if you should have gotten distracted.  If you’re like me (my sympathies if you are), you have this experience quite frequently.  I think it harkens back to our childhood days when just about any shiny new thing would immediately grab our attention. [Hence the toy robot photo, blog image selection is not a core competency.]

There are various manifestations of this Shiny New Thing (SNT) phenomenon.  Here are a few:

1.  New technology/platform/language/framework:  This applies mostly to developers.  There you are coding away on your project, and this article comes up in Google Reader about this new paradigm-driven-framework.  BAM!  It’s so cool!  It could change everything!  It could make you 10X more productive!  So, you immediately start conjuring up ways to use that shiny new thing in whatever you happen to be working on at this point in time. 

2.  New market/customers/industry:  Your startup has a market, you probably even have some of the product developed.  You’re making sales, albeit things are going a little slower than you hoped.  Then, you read a blog article somewhere and BAM!  You think of this new market that you could go after.  And, brilliant technologist that you are, you’ve already developed your existing product such that with just a few small tweaks you could go after this new market pretty easily.  In fact, the beauty of it is that you don’t even have to give give up your existing market/customer/industry.  You can do this one too!  If one market is good, two has got to be better, right?  Right?

3.  New Feature/Application/Product:  Your existing product is cranking along.  The few customers/users you have seem to be happy.  You’re signing up more people.  You’re supporting your users.  You’re truckin’ along.  Then BAM!  You get this idea for a shiny, new feature or product to add to your arsenal.  You pause briefly to ponder whether the legal services industry really needs an ERP app for the iPhone.  But hey, you know this industry really well, and your best customer has a daughter who has an iPhone.  You’re just a little “ahead of the market”, right.  Right? 

3.  New Company:  There you are, cranking along.  And, you just kind of start getting bored.  Your idea was really cool and got you all fired up in the morning.  It was so shiny, new back then.  But alas, it’s just not that shiny any more.  The idea is sooo last month.  It’s really hard to be passionate about it now.  You’ve got to absolutely love what you’re doing, every day, right?  It’s a waste of time to stick to something that you’re just not excited about, isn’t it?  And then, BAM!  You come up with this new startup idea.  It’s bright!  It’s shiny!  Life is good again. 

So, you get the idea.  If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’ve been hit by some variation of the above Shiny New Thing bug at some point.  Unfortunately, when you get hit with it, it’s rarely in the exaggerated, “Boy, that’s a supid thing to do, I would never do that” kind of way as the above examples illustrate.  The SNT bug is usually much more subtle and insidious than that.  It’s why it infects so many smart, rational entrepreneurs — and me. 

What makes this problem a problem is that it is rare that going after the  Shiny New Thing is going to increase your oddds of success (however you define it).  Most of the time, it’s a distraction.  The rest of the time, it’s usually a major distraction.  To really succeed and get things done, you’re going to need to stick to something and get the basic machinery “working” and plug away at it.  Good ideas take time.  Great ideas take even more time.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you be stubborn about your idea, business model, product, whatever.  Far from it.  I’m a big fan of the agile approach to startups.  But, there’s a difference between iterating on an existing thing and being distracted by a Shiny New Thing. 

So, here’s my advice to you the next time you see the Shiny New Thing bug buzzing around your head as you’re trying to get real work done.  Ask yourself the following 4 questions:

1.  Am I simply intrigued by the shininess and newness, or is there really a there, there? 

2.  What would I need to know and what minimal questions would I need answered to figure out whether this Shiny New Thing is worth my attention?

3.  How long will it reasonably take me to figure out what I need to know?  Can I even afford that investment?  How does it impact what I’m doing now? 

4.  Should I go ahead and….Hey wait!  As I was writing this, I just came across another topic for this blog as a result of something on Guy Kawasaki’s blog.  Must…try…to…resist…shiny…new…thing.  Oh no…it’s too…shinyyyyyyyy....[click]

Topics: strategy
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Startups and The Power Of Polarization

By Dharmesh Shah on September 24, 2008

Startups, particularly those world-changing, curve-jumping, bet-the-farm kind are a tricky business.  The temptation for startups is, as Seth Godin would say, “to create average products for average people”.  The reason is simple, there’s a massive market of average people.  And, they want average products.  Nothing too controversial.  Nothing that makes them too uncomfortable. 

Guy Kawasaki, one of my favorite business authors addresses this in a recent article titled “The Art of Innovation”.  Here’s #4 from that article:

Don't be afraid to polarize people. Most companies want to create the holy grail of products that appeals to every demographic, social-economic background, and geographic location. To attempt to do so guarantees mediocrity.”

But, my advice would be to not try and “solve for the middle” — but strive to polarize an audience.  If you’re really looking to make a big difference, you want a group of people that passionately disagrees with your idea/approach/business.  Why?  Because when you’re doing something that polarizes, and you have a bunch people that passionately disagree with you, you have a chance to find people that passionately agree.  It is these passionate people that help fuel the growth and help spread your idea.  And curve-jumping companies almost always have an idea that spreads at their core.  Your enemy, as in many walks of life, are not the ones that hate, but the ones that are apathetic.

In short, have the courage to take a stand even if it means you’re going to make some people uncomfortable or annoyed.  Of course, you actually have to believe in the stand that you take, but the idea is that if you believe in it, push towards the edges even if it causes a big rift in your community.

So, let’s take a look at a small, recent example from my own startup, HubSpot.  I’m using the HubSpot case because I know it well and have been on the “inside” of (as a founder and Chief Stirrer of Pots).  It also just happened yesterday as part of our own internet marketing efforts.

The quick story at HubSpot is simple:  We believe there’s a massive transformation going on that is causing people to move from outbound marketing (advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, etc.) to inbound marketing.  Inbound marketing is about increasing the chances that people that actually give a flying flip about your offering will find you.  (Not to hunt down masses of people most of whom don’t give a flying flip and interrupt them with your message).  The idea itself is not that controversial.  But, this video that we created recently is.  It’s short, and sort of funny, so go watch it and then continue.

So, here was our issue.  When building this video we had to decide:  Are we really advocating that companies throw away all of their old marketing methods (including telemarketing) so they can switch to our way (inbound marketing)?  It’s just not practical.  If we asked people to do that, we’d risk losing a bunch of prospects that just wouldn’t take us seriously.  We’d risk a bunch of our prospective customers thinking we were a whole lot of clueless.  But, we did it in anyway.  Then, we went a step further.  When we created the associated blog article, we gave it a controversial title “Dude, Cold Calling Is For Losers”.  Now, not only are we making fun of people that are doing cold calling, we’re actually calling them losers.  Remember, we have 5,000+ people that are subscribed to this blog, many of them are marketers, and most of them likely do some sort of telemarketing. 

So, what do you think?  What are you doing to “take a stand” when it comes to the vision of your startup?  What was the last risk you took online?  Something that would really irritate a big batch of potential customers?  Share your experiences here.  I promise, we won’t hate you.

Apologies for those that think this is article too self-promotional.  I try to keep OnStartups focused on things that I think will help other entrepreneurs.  Often, my best exampes are from my own personal experience.  Nudge me back if I cross the line.

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