This is a guest post by Eric Fulkert.
My high school job was in building maintenance. I worked on fixing and maintaining industrial buildings. One summer, my boss gave me a week long work assignment. I was to go and paint, by hand, an insane length of curb yellow. He gave me all the equipment and said report to the job site all week. I took one look at that length of curb and realized I didn’t want to paint it by hand. And I didn’t.
I teamed up with my co-painter and we rented a curb sprayer. We painted the entire length of curb in one day. I took the rest of the week off and everyone was happy. Knowing about the curb sprayer helped me get the work done and move on to better things. I saved myself four days of summer. Time is the one asset you can never buy more of.
Startups spend too much time painting curbs by hand. Many of the startups I meet with work too hard building things that exist. Startups need to move fast and get to market to gain share. Your startup needs every curb sprayer you can find. The challenge is startups build things.
We have designers, developers, hosting and creative people ready to take on a problem. We have the best ideas. We think we can cure all the world’s headaches. We can build something better than what exists. But, building things takes time, money and resources. Do you want to tell your investors how great your new widget is or how you gained market share? (The answer is market share.)
Startups need to focus on their core product. Many startups wind up in the dust bin from lack of focus. When I started at Campus Suite, we had ten different homegrown systems to manage the business. We had an invoice tool, a project tool, a support tool and some other widgets we built to do random things. My team had to support these ten systems and build our core product.
My first thing I did as CEO was take all these platforms out back and “Old Yeller” ’em. (Unlike the movie, no one cried when I put them down.) Why did I kill them off? Because we could build on better tools that already existed. Freskdesk for support. Quickbooks for invoicing, JIRA for project and code management.
We adopted these new tools and regained our focus on our core product. Many will argue that the tools that exist are missing features, sluggish or just lack a great UX experience. I hear these arguments and I have a standard answer. I don’t care.
If the tools are that lacking, leave this startup and go solve that problem instead. Every startup has a core market problem to solve. Most failed startups have many non-core problems they took on. Your market is only paying for you to solve their core problem. Leave the other problems to other startups.
This lack of focus has impact outside of secondary tools. When startups look to build their actual codebase, they commit the same sin. Developers and leaders will spend time building out functions that already exist. Scaling your business model becomes harder if you didn’t plan to scale your custom tools. Here are a few examples that I see.
- Payment and Subscription Management – Packages exist that can do all this and more, for a low monthly fee. Why build a user portal and track payments?
- Fulfillment – Are you shipping from your garage? Amazon and others have full warehouse solutions that you can control via an API. Maybe you are smarter than Amazon. I’m not.
- Hosting – Are you using dedicated virtual servers? Why not use a stack that abstracts your code from the servers. I was a server jockey for years. #hatedit
- Front End Websites – Can your team build a full mobile responsive website for your marketing website? Why not buy a theme and customize it.
- Support – Tools exist to have support tickets, chat and crash detection. Why not just drop in the code from an existing tool?
- Sales – Why reinvent the sales process? Grab one of the hundreds of CRM systems and go.
Any of these items could make or break your profits or time to market. Picking the right tools and staying focused leads to success. VC’s love seeing you have stable solutions to business challenges. Your CFO will kiss you for the savings. Your wallet will expand with a nice exit.
Eric built his experience working in the tech sector for 20 years. He is CEO of Campus Suite, a content management and communications platform for schools and colleges across the US. Eric is also COO of Soundstr, a Brandery graduate backed by Gracenote, and COO of Craftforce, a skilled trades marketplace. He helps Cincinnati startups as a advisor for Cintrifuse. Eric brings his experiences and methods from running multiple companies to the startup ecosystem. His key skills include team management, platform design and development, process design, and inbound marketing. Connect with Eric on LinkedIn
Feature image credit purplejavatroll. Image has been cropped.