The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s one of the best business decisions you’ve ever made?” is written by Matthew Roche, CEO of Extole.
As a serial entrepreneur (and product enthusiast), it’s tempting to pinpoint and dig into the biggest, broadest, most conceptual problem you can identify. The opportunities seem endless during this initial phase of ideation, and it’s natural to want to solve for every issue associated with the problem at hand. But my experience has shown me that in order to succeed, it’s imperative to solve for a single thing before you solve for everything. Here are some points to keep in mind:
Bigger isn’t always better
When I founded a company called Offermatica in 2003, I was fiercely determined to solve for personalization. Though massively intimidating and relatively unknown, we set out to build a universal content machine that understood individual visitors and updated content accordingly based on their specific preferences. We spent 12 months building and pitching this concept to prospective customers. But we generated zero dollars in revenue.
We were hungry for success, but our product wasn’t resonating with customers. During a brainstorm session, a side conversation about showcasing two versions of content to determine the best option for our customers led to a complete overhaul of our product. We narrowed our focus within the vast personalization playing field, and it led to a SaaS A/B testing solution.
The decision to shift to A/B testing was the best I’ve ever made. But like most big ideas, it was initially met with more resistance by our board than agreement. But as it became apparent that customers couldn’t connect with our initial vision, we made the decision to boldly commit to our new focus. Targeting wouldn’t solve their problems, but A/B testing could. The shift allowed us to move from a company with zero sales to one of the fastest-growing startups in Silicon Valley, achieving 500% growth over three years. Our focus generated success, success generated resources, and resources ultimately enabled us to build what became a huge personalization engine—our original vision.
You have to shift for success
I constantly see companies that become so wrapped up in their vision that they miss a great entry point into an industry. They lose sight of the fact that before you can do something for everyone, you need to do something for someone. Though it sometimes feels more intuitive to dive head first into a problem, it’s actually far more logical to start small and strategically chip away until you can offer a bigger solution.
At my current company, we have a lofty vision that we’d ultimately like to solve for: We want to build a marketing platform that is independent of a social network and can transform how retailers interact with their customers. But that vision will get us exactly as many customers as we had during the first 12 months at Offermatica: zero. Though it sounds great, it won’t solve for today’s industry issues, and is a much bigger investment than many companies are currently willing to make. So we’ve dialed it back and are currently focused on providing a marketing platform that enables our clients to acquire new customers through their brand advocates. With the same patience and ambition we had at Offermatica, I’m confident that our success and the growth of the market will eventually allow us to solve for the bigger picture.
It’s easy to be fooled by the notion that doing it all will put you on the fastest route to success. But the best way to achieve a favorable outcome is to strategically place your efforts into solving a singular issue. And if you’ve already started down the all-encompassing path, it’s never too late to turn yourself around. Reevaluating, narrowing, and refocusing will allow you to change the outcome of your efforts for the better.