Like naive, overly ambitious college students…
My buddy and I were brainstorming businesses we’d like to start.
With a ready supply of beer, we starting plotting which companies would get us started on the path to world domination.
Before long, we finally come up with an idea that we just LOVED.
A bit of context: this was right around the time that gamification was all the rage. Everyone was talking about how to incorporate game mechanics into their own product, hack user behavior, and make just about anything highly addictive.
So we figured we build an entire product around gamification.
Our Glorious Business Idea
Here’s the idea: Manpoints.
That’s right. We were going to build a platform where you could track your man points. As you completed manly achievements, you’d acquire man points for your profile. It would include things like:
- Deadlifting 400lbs
- Building your own furniture
- Changing your own oil
There would be hundreds of these achievements. Users would track their points, compare their “manliness” to friends, etc. All the typical social media hoopla.
What was the business model? Psssh, we didn’t have one. Let’s just build something and figure out the revenue part later. Twitter did it, so can we!
The idea is ridiculous.
But that’s not the point. Your first business ideas are always ridiculous.
The main lesson is where I decided to focus my energy.
Getting Distracted by the Wrong Problem
Once we had the idea, we started brainstorming ideas for the product. Which kind of feats would reward points, how leaderboards would work, etc. I even built a mind map of all the different achievements. Most of this time was a complete waste, I realize that now. But it got even worse.
Somewhere along the line, I got CRAZY worried about what would happen when people started cheating. It would completely ruin the product!
We didn’t even have a single user at this point and I’m spending countless hours trying to figure out how to keep people from cheating.
There’s nothing for them to even cheat yet. That didn’t stop me.
I started researching how other companies had dealt with cheating. I even found an interview with Dennis Crowley, the CEO of Foursquare, on how they handled it.
How could we confirm user achievements? Could we use algorithms to locate abnormal user behavior and locate cheaters?
What a complete waste of time.
Not only do we have a ridiculous idea. I’m losing sleep over a hypothetical problem for a non-existent product.
World domination here we come!
You see, instead of trying to figure out whether there was a market for this idea, I got wrapped up in the wrong problem.
Don’t Just Solve Problems, Solve the Right Problem
For a new business, it’s life or death. You have an incredibly short window to validate your idea and gain traction. Otherwise, you won’t have the energy and resources to survive.
Your business will always have more problems than it can ever hope to solve. Competitors are right behind you, the 800lb industry gorilla starts going after your niche, product improvements take much longer than they ever should, and everyone seems to be giving you contradicting feedback.
Even for an established business, focusing on the wrong problem leads to stagnation and eventually failure as your market leaves you behind.
To get to the next level, you need to be able to cut through the noise and focus on the most critical problem for the stage that your business is in.
More importantly, it requires that you allow other problems to persist.
They’ll stare you in the face, bugging and nagging you every day. You have to let them go.
Because if you don’t carve out enough time for your team to focus on THE critical problem of the moment, you won’t live long enough to fix anything else.
Take my Manpoints idea. Did we ever get a single user? Nope. Did we ever build an initial prototype? Nope. Did we even get feedback from a single person it? Nope.
I got dragged into an irrelevant problem and we never even got around to validating the idea. Who knows, it might actually work. But I don’t know whether or not people would have liked it because I spent time on the wrong problem.
And here’s the bad news.
It never gets easier. In many ways, it gets harder. Each new stage brings a deeper level of complexity, more moving pieces, and the constraints that previous decisions have forced upon you.
So enjoy the problem you have now. Focus on the right one. And look forward to the increased challenge of problems to come.
It’s easy to list out problems that need to be solved. The art is knowing which one requires your undivided attention at this point in time.