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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!