Recently I was discussing distractions at Argyle, well we were discussing a very specific distraction, but that’s all details. A popular piece of common wisdom popped into my head:

One of the hardest parts about startups isn’t deciding what to do next; often it’s deciding what not to do at all.

But it’s almost too easy to trot that excuse out and try to wholesale avoid any potentially dangerous distractions. The problem with lines like the one above is that they can cause you to miss out on a huge opportunity.

Twitter was a side project at Odeo. Hell, Starbucks started off selling beans and espresso makers, they had no interest in brewing coffee. Today’s distraction could be tomorrow’s billion dollar idea.

These things can run the gambit, some provide alternate revenue streams, some just augment and existing offering, and other change the business you’re in.

So how do you decide whether that distraction is a potential game changer? I’m just thinking out loud, but here are a few tools we’ve employed to mull things over:

Market check

Are there people willing to pay for this potential waste of time? If not, it doesn’t mean the idea is dead in the water, but it does mean that you have to be willing to get flexible when it comes to monetizing.

Whether or not this idea is out of the realm of your existing customer base, it’s still worth working through the details of profitability. Even easy wins have hard costs.

Product Alignment

Does this idea dovetail with your existing offering at all? It might not be that much of a distraction if you can upsell/cross sell it to your existing customers or prospects.

Or maybe it can help fill feature gaps or competitive shortfalls you may have with your existing products. Think creatively about how this could be leveraged.

Company Impact

Ideas can solidify into reality quite quickly in this cloud driven world. You can be sitting pretty with a shiny new toy in a matter of days. But how will the rest of the company deal with it?

Marketing needs to know how to talk about it and who to push it to. Sales needs to know how to talk pretty about it and how to handle the objections. And don’t get me started with support.

Know who will be impacted and how before you go too far down that road.

Vigorous Debate

One of my favorites – you can almost always count on me to play a bit of devil’s advocate. If you’re not sure what to do then talk it out. And don’t be afraid to drag in some heavy hitters – whether that be investors, advisors, mentors, customers, or random people on the street. Sometimes a little outside perspective is the best thing you can bring to this discussion.

Why are you even considering this?

This might be the most important point. Why in the world are you even having this discussion? Did a big prospect ask for something crazy? Did you just stumble across some sort of technical easy win? Have you stumbled across a treasure trove of slightly skewed leads or uncovered a new unmet market need?

Whatever the reason, you better understand the full motivation behind it or it could get very painful very quickly.

Decide

So should you grab that distraction by the tail and turn it into a money maker or let it go? I don’t know, you’re just going to have to make a decision and keep on truckin. That’s life in a startup.

Here’s to yet another interesting business challenge that’ll keep you up at night!

Recently I’ve been asked a few times how close I am to done with the major feature-set at Argyle. While the question is laughable to me (and Eric), to the layman it probably makes sense.

The best answer I could come up with was on a scale of 1 to infinity I was probably at about 8.5 million. I mean, that’s really far, we’ve got a good product. But it’s not really anywhere near infinity.

You see, the whole premise is laughable to us because we know that in this space you’re never done. Really, I’ve never worked on a software product that I thought could be done. If you can finish your piece of software then you are building a feature, not a product.

There’s always more features, more things to add, heck, more things to remove. That’s the curse and the joy of good software, you can always do something else to it.

Last week marked my last day at Bronto, while this week saw a kick off of my efforts in Argyle Social. Starting a fresh new company is quite a feat. I’ve never done this before, so I’m learning as I go.

I have a strong desire to build a prototype app – something we can start to play with, something we can start to show off, something we can start to get feedback on. All of those are extremely important as we strive to build something brand new, both in terms physically and conceptually new.

However, I’ve had to push back on that urge and get my thoughts in order. No small task given my love for hacking together a prototype. For those of you who’ve followed me for a little while, you may recall I threw the first iteration of idek.net together in a weekend.

So what have I been doing? Well, a good few years of product management have taught me that you can’t build a good product without a design. Also that you can’t build a good design without a conceptual model. Of course, none of this is possible at all without some goals.

Right now we have no product, no customers, really nothing but some great ideas, a lot of motivation, and some great goals. This week was spent revising those goals to ensure that we know what we are heading for and that we know what we want to reach.

So, yes, I’ve gotten more work done than just a boondoggle in the land of goals. But I know that the time and effort that Eric and I have spent on thinking through the fundamental needs of clients will pay off in spades. Delaying the launch of the first iteration of our app by a few days is definitely worth the price of improved focus and a better understanding of what will make us and our clients more successful.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I do have a propensity to talk a lot. It’s who I am and what I do. But lately I’ve been given a few chances to do so to a bit of a wider audience.

Last weekend I spoke at the Product Camp unconference. This is a conference where there are no attendees, everyone is a participant. So at the suggestion of a product manager friend of mine, I offered to talk about Delivering Products in a Software as a Service (SaaS) World. As it turns out there was a bit of interest in this topic.

Adam Covati Talk about Saas at Product Camp RTP

I really enjoyed the talk, it generated some good discusion. Not suprising, and in true unconference fashion, I learned quite a bit also during the talk. This was a great first experience in leading a discussion at a conference – and it was a lot of fun.

Social Media FreshI’ve actually been invited to talk on a panel this August as well. I’ll be speaking alongside a colleague and friend, Mike Rundle at Social Media Fresh down in Charlotte. I was invited to speak there based off my experience of writing applications for social networks. This would be related to my work with idek.net and more recently pici.me.

So if you are interested in social media and how it can be a benefit to businesses – then please check out Social Media Fresh. And if you are coming then be sure to check out the Social Media Tech Panel.

Kipp Bodnar (@kbodnar32) over at DigitalCapitalism.com, links to a very inspiring and frank talk from Gary Vaynerchuck in a recent blog post. Let’s watch it here, it’s worth the 15 minutes…

[video]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhqZ0RU95d4[/video]

Kipp calls out what I also feel is the most important part of that talk: Be Yourself. Well Kipp actually goes a bit beyond that, his point is that if you are yourself and are not hyper-concerned with pleasing everyone then you will piss a few people off – and that’s good.

I’m not sure you have to piss people off, but I agree that you have to be willing to allow that to happen. Part of being yourself is being passionate about something. Being passionate lends to having very strong opinions and being able to stand up to others with differing strong opinions. And that’s where you provide value.

So where are you providing value? Who are you arguing with?

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