Lack of Focus (Startup Lesson Learned)

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By Jennifer Toney (Founder & CEO, WeMakeItSafer) When Cass asked if I would be willing to write a post for FailCon, I was honored and pleased to oblige. WeMakeItSafer was part of the very first FailCon demo pit. Back then, we weren’t much more than an idea. I remember showing up to the conference very “underdressed” with our poster-board and alpha (read: not pretty) website.

Soon after, we began blazing a trail, or make that two trails. Our goal was, and is, to be an information hub for manufacturers, retailers and consumers –- a place where important information gets to the people who need it in a timely manner without compromising privacy.

To accomplish that goal we decided to develop both b-to-c and b-to-b products. It sounded good at the time, but the problem is, as a tiny startup with extremely limited resources, it’s hard enough to blaze one trail let alone try to go down two at once. We found ourselves taking baby steps on each product, but not completing anything. It took a very long time to get either product off the ground.

We launched both our b-to-c product, “Items I Own,” and or b-to-b product, “Simply Check” this spring. Fortunately, what we envisioned is beginning to come to fruition –- each acts as positive feedback loop for the other. However, it was not without consequence. What was a nice big, blue ocean when we started is now getting murkier.

I would advise other entrepreneurs to focus. Pick one thing and do it very well. It seems like old, belabored advice and something we definitely had heard before. Our mistake, really, was in our underlying assumption that our “one thing” was our tech. We figured that building the breakthrough technology was the hard part, and layering some nice interfaces on top -– one for consumers, the other for companies -– would be quick and easy. What we didn’t anticipate was how long talking to customers and iterating would take, especially as we honed in on tighter targets for each.

So, when someone tells you to focus -– they mean really focus. Focus your target market and focus your product –- one product. Strip away all the extra features and solve one, big problem for one type of customer. Nail that, sell it, then add on.

This post was originally posted at Failcon's blog.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Jennifer P. Toney is the Founder and CEO at WeMakeItSafer. Prior to starting WeMakeItSafer, she worked with corporations as an Expert (testifying/consulting) in Commercial Damages on a variety of legal matters, including product recall. Jennifer holds an MBA as well as BAs in Economics and Japanese from the University of California at Berkeley. Jennifer blogs at JenniferToney.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jennifer_Toney and her startup on Twitter at @WeMakeItSafer.