“And” and How it Can Kill Your Business

Focus is extremely important, especially in the early days of a startup or idea. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the best thing to offer your customers is everything they need. I mean why wouldn’t you want to be the one stop shop for a user’s needs? Then you can be sure they’ll keep coming back for more, right? Unfortunately, it may sound good in theory, but in reality it’s a concept that kills.

The problem is, everytime you add an “and” to a to what you offer you risk proportionally devaluing each other thing you claim to be the best at; which I call value dilution.

Say we are a company that focuses on the very best linens (but then you think: how do I get the linens to the customer – so you continue on) … and we will deliver the very best linens to your door in under an hour. What just happened there is once you started thinking about alternative ways to increase the value of your company you have inadvertently admitted that the “fine linens” part of your company’s offerings isn’t good enough to stand on its own. I have the finest linens – [period]. I am so focused and great at making fine linens you will want them – [period].

Internally, (and here is a point of import) in every conversation and meeting that comes up, if the discussion doesn’t ultimately improve the quality of your fine linens don’t waste your time talking about it until you have the very best linens. Every new offering (if you want it done well) deserves all the attention it needs and will suck attention from another offering unless you have the brand, management, money, exposure, head count, or customer base to help carry your company into a new offering.

No idea is too small to warrant focus. You will be amazed at how deep you can dive into any one concept. The improvements you can bring to a single idea are infinite. There is always as much depth available in any one subject as there is breadth to the number of subjects available to explore.

A side benefit of going deep in one area, as opposed to picking many things to get involved in, is with each iteration of depth you find on any one subject the differentiating knowledge and expertise you gain will grow exponentially.  As a budding startup this exponential gain in knowledge through focus is the far better bang for your buck than compared to the costs of having to learn unrelated points of information when creating new products in new directions.

People try to avoid this law all the time. I’ve heard, “our team is special – we can do it (without more talent or time)” or “why can’t you move all your chess pieces at once?” or “it’s not technically a different focus and blah blah.” Sorry, you can’t avoid this law no matter how smart or hard working you are.  In order to provide the amount of time and energy needed on a each core value  you will need more people, a larger budget and more time (at all levels of the company.) Without it you will give your customers mixed signals, employees contradicting objectives , and a product that can’t compete with a rival that has chosen to focus all its time on one of your things.

When can you add an “and”? I’d say a good rule of thumb is, you can add an “and” when the “and” is not novelle/unique/innovative. Though, often if you are and’ing something that is not innovative then you probably don’t need to “and” it at all. It can come into play when your offering is a novelle way to offer an aggregate of many non-novelle things — but you had better be the best damn aggregator out there and make sure your team works toward that focused goal.

Note: I should make one more point. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have new ideas, just recognize that the new idea will need focus and attention and if you think your original idea/business isn’t good enough to stand on its own then it may be time to decide whether to keep the old business or shift focus completely to the new one. There is a time and place for R&D, and there is a time and place to grow your offering, but without total market fit your “and” should not be added to your core. There is also a difference between supporting features and additional cores that people get confused about a lot – I’ll save that for another post.

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