My great office buddy Sri pointed me at “The Trap of Marginal Thinking” by Clayton Christensen the other day. I must say it truly struck a cord with me.
Here are my favourite parts:
The marginal cost of doing something “just this once” always seems to be negligible, but the full cost will typically be much higher. Yet unconsciously, we will naturally employ the marginal-cost doctrine in our personal lives. A voice in our head says, “Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s okay.” And the voice in our head seems to be right; the price of doing something wrong “just this once” usually appears alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t see where that path is ultimately headed or the full cost that the choice entails.
Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be.
It was something running through my head today when I almost compromised on a hiring decision. The guy was so close to being great but then failed dramatically at one of our coding tests. Failing at the coding test or not completing it in an above average way is a deal breaker. I almost bent the rules, I went so far as to invite him back the following day to work on something together in the hope that things would workout.
Then I thought of the words quoted above and asked myself, if I bend the rules just this once, then what happens? I’ve compromised the business. The others that work with us will see this and it will cascade like a snow ball destroying everything in its path (… slight exaggeration but I like exaggeration).
Published May 30, 2009
Marketing, Sales & Business , News , Success & Failure
Tags: australian startups, Failure, focus, lessons learnt, startup, Success, sydney startup, sydney startups, web startup
Almost a year ago from now I launched the second version of donttell.com.au. It was to be Australia’s number 1 location for Australian street fashion and outfits. It never made it.
This week the domain for donttell.com.au expired and the decision was made not to renew it. That is I’ve decided that donttell.com.au should come to an end.
Here some lessons you can take away from my failure with donttell.com.au:
- You need to be 2010% passionate about what you’re doing. Whilst I was passionate about creating something that people loved to use, I wasn’t passionate enough about the actual purpose of the donttell.com.au. I really couldn’t get passionate about gladiator sandals, no matter how hard I tried.
- Focus your product/service on a specific need. The first version of donttell.com.au was launched almost 2 years ago. It was a mess of features and “stuff” and “things” and … It just didn’t have focus. Your focus needs to be something that people immediately look at and say “Oh I get it” – only then can you hope for growth and usage. Take a look at pickmylunch.com.au for an example of this.
- Focus on how you will bring people to your site. You need to put a strategy in place for bringing people to the site before you build the site or service. The reason for this is that by asking “how will I get people to my service?” you inevitably end up asking “why will people come to my site?” which not only helps you focus but gives you the exact information for how you should be building your site and the advertising you need to do. If your site is built to draw people to it, then it will. With donttell.com.au we eventually focused on fashion trends, creating content with the exact title of the trend and running advertising campaigns around that.
- Advertising is a must. Naively thinking that your service will just take off like there is no tomorrow because everyone thinks it is great and tells their friends is cods waddle. Ain’t going to happen. It doesn’t matter how great it is because how can someone tell their friends about something if they don’t know it exists?
- Focus on bringing people back to your site. Donttell.com.au had a mailing list that bought people back to the site. This mailing list had an exceptionally high conversion rate compared to most mailing lists. Once you’ve spent all that time and effort drawing someone to your site, you need to spend more time and effort getting them to stay.
- Keep it simple. Transforming donttell.com.au from a feature list like “A social fashion site where you can upload outfits and share them with your friends, rate them, buy them…” to “Australian street fashion and outfits” made a big difference. Keep it simple.
- Get other people involved. You’ll be surprised at how many people really want to take on an exciting “extra curricula” project. Almost everyone has the itch, they just need to be pointed in the right direction. Donttell.com.au was lucky to become the outlet for some very creative people.
There are other little lessons learnt along the way, but these were by far the most important. It’s because of these lessons that it is hard for me to be upset about this coming to an end. I’ve just learnt so much from it.
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A comment made by Rob Antulov (3eep CEO) via Phil Morle’s blog really stood out to me because of the point it was making. That is, your next great feature probably isn’t going to mean success for your business if you just aren’t getting the basics right.
I really like the use of the burger shop in the analogy:
“We want to make great burgers before we try to open McDonalds”
However, I think it could also be:
In software we try and develop a new sauce for our burger thinking it will increase our customers. However, we miss the fact that we built our burger shop in the middle of the desert.
When you want something and you explain to people why you want it you’d be surprised at how easy it is to start getting what you are after. When people are aware of what motivates you and what you want it is easy for them to point you in the right direction or help you achieve what you’re after.
Just recently I’ve decided that I want to do research in the fields of management, leadership and technology to gain a deep understanding of the fields and build a name for myself. So, when I explained what I wanted and why I wanted it to someone straight away they pointed me to the right person and now things are looking great.
Don’t hide what you want and don’t hide why you want it.
Along with ING Direct Australia’s CEO, I also had the pleasure of listening to former Microsoft Australia’s CEO, Steve Vamos. Here are some of the great pieces of information I took away:
- Talent retention is key. It is a key responsibility of your leaders and managers to ensure talent is not only retained but absolutely enjoying their time with the organisation.
- The two most important things in today’s economy are knowledge and connection. Whilst no leader can ever completely handle this, it is a journey that must be undertaken.
- Success can no longer be defined on an individual basis. Steve didn’t have an answer, but he made it clear that we need to look at new ways of giving incentives and recognising success – it can no longer be just about the individual.
There are two more great things I took away from him, but they deserve their own post each.
I was watching Pumping Iron featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and, even if you’re not trying to put 10kg on like I am, Arnie is one inspiring guy.
His focus is amazing. He clears everything out of his life leading up to a body building event and focuses only on it. Even to the point where he says he did not visit his father’s funeral because it would distract him from preparation for an upcoming event. I think this is a huge factor in him winning 7 times.
It leaves a tough question in my mind about focusing on studying vs one of my two startups. The benefits of focusing on one and only one are obvious. Perhaps focusing on different ones at different times of the year will still yield some fruit?
Remember the Michael Jordan ads where Jordan said that he’s missed something like 22 game-winning shots? He then finished by adding, “I succeed because I fail.” People who are obsessed with playing the “what if” game are destined never to get out of the starting gate.
I just love this one because it really says something for a never give up and never say die attitude.
“Oh no, I haven’t failed 5,000 times. I’ve succeeded
in finding 5,000 different ways that you cannot possibly
build a light bulb.”
- Thomas A. Edison, on his progress during his quest for the incandescent electric lamp