Friday, December 31, 2010

Focus on focus

When working in a startup, focus is all but easy. Every interaction with a prospect/customer/analyst/engineer/partner opens up a world of new opportunities for your product or service. Temptations are in abundance when you're young.

A few years ago, I was working at Identify Software (later acquired by BMC). We built a really cool app that helped developers and support engineers troubleshoot software problems. We called it black box flight recorder for software. One of our early customers was Intel, and our tool found its way to the cyber security team, who realized it could help them analyze the impact of malware.

They were ecstatic about it.

The result? We started going after the security market. We didn't change direction, we just added one. Instead of  focusing all our (then scarce) resources on delighting our users and growing our user base, we spent time discussing a new security product and talking to companies in the security space. Luckily, the whole initiative was scrapped a few months later and we re-focused our attention on our original market, but this just goes to show you the risks startups are running into when smart people get ideas of what else they could do with your nifty technology.

The problem startups are facing is rarely what to do. It is what not to do.

What do you do when you run into a focus issue? One thing that has been quite effective for me is the home page banner test. Ask yourself (or your CEO, or your VP Sales) - "there is one main banner on the company's home page - what do you want it to say?". If there's one thing you want to tell people about what your company does, what would it be? And no, you can't have rotating banners...