The Complications with Complexity

Recent conversations with several very young startups reminded me of a common problem that many start-ups face while they are in their early days: The product is too complicated.

Complicated products don’t work for many reasons, the first of which is they are just too hard to explain and “message”.  When somebody asks you what your product does, you need a crisp one-line answer and you need to be able to deliver it without hesitation.  If you fumble or hesitate when asked, you can assume you have a problem.  If you deliver your one-liner and the recipient gives you a blank stare, that is also likely a problem.  The other big challenge with complicated products is that they are complex to build, so they take too long to get out the door.  And since time is money (and nowhere is that more pronounced than in start-ups), you end up burning precious amounts of cash before your product gets to market.  Hard-to-make and hard-to-sell is not a great way to begin your startup adventure.

So I find myself pushing these early entrepreneurs to cut things out and do so quickly.  You can get there by asking, what is the one single thing I am doing that is unique and really solves a problem? Chuck everything else overboard, focus on that one thing and get it out in the marketplace ASAP to see if anyone cares.  This begins the true journey to find out what the REAL product needs to be.

In my book, The Start-up J Curve, I highlight how the toughest part of the journey is the first few steps: Create, Release, Morph and Model.  Those steps form the bottom of the J Curve, which I also refer to as the “long cold winter.”  The trick is to get through these first steps as fast as possible.  Complicated products delay traversing the nadir of the J Curve and make those first steps a long and painful process.Don’t go there.  Simplify your product now.  Strip it down to its essentials and “Get the Damn thing out there!”