The Perils of Shiny New Objects

Posted on Aug 20, 2013 | 51 comments


I have a saying that I employ as a powerful metaphor at every startup with whom I work – “beware of shiny new objects.”

monkey visits the light show by ani kapuria - Downloaded from 500px

It is one of the easiest pieces of advice to give as it is almost always valuable if entrepreneurs follow it as a guideline. Yet sadly most startups have “shiny object” obsessions. In today’s uber-connected, social media, everything-is-public, people tell you there’s killing it with these new features, investor & mentor whiplash – it’s hard to avoid the latest thing.

The new thing.

The shiny object.

Or as Michael Lewis aptly called in this great book, “The New, New Thing

Pinterest is killing it with their new UI. 4 months later every fucking product I see looks like Pinterest.

Facebook Fan Pages launch. mmm. get me some.

Group Messaging. Crowd sourcing. Twilio. Hubspot.┬áP2P marketplace. Microsoft throwing money at me to build a mobile app. Path. Vine. YouTube videos. YouTube money. MCNs. Disappearing photo messages. Stickers. Turntable.FM – if I only I launch dancing people with bobbly heads my adoption will go through the rooooof!

Skeuomorphic design. No, wait! FLAT design. Native apps. HTML5. Open graph. Twitter Amplify. Voice messaging. Video messaging.

Yum.

There’s so much to do! And everybody is doing it.

All of this whiplash is destroying your business. All of these features, products, business models in their own right are valuable. Slowly. Sequentially. Thoughtfully. Methodically. Tested. In due course.

Done quickly while you rush to the next toy is a disaster. Yet I promise you this is what many businesses do.

In the absence of conviction, experience or pain-in-the-ass board members it’s easy to veer off course.

I strongly believe that your success will be more defined by what you choose not to do than by what you choose to do.

Of course what you choose to do has be be meaningful, timely, valuable, prescient and high quality. Else you suck regardless.

But think about it …

What made Instagram, Instagram with a B? Or DropBox. Or most recently the smashing and unstoppable success that is WhatsApp?

While many companies chased features, functions, integrations, platforms, toys, conferences … these companies quietly sharpened the saw.

Made life easier. Proved out their business one incremental change at a time.

Methodically.

They seem to all have avoided shiny objects, hard pivots or the latest fad.

So ask yourself the tough questions.

As I’m fond of saying “The Scarecest Resource at a Startup is Management Bandwidth” so choose wisely.

Or more granular … the entire model of a startup is prioritizing resource constraints. So what you choose to do, do well and go deep. Or you risk having a product & business that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Great at nothing.

Everything you say “yes” to is incrementally one more thing to support and you die a death by a thousand cuts. I’ve seen it a million times. It’s more common than rare.

Focus is hard – especially when you’re not seeing immediate results. But ask yourself the harder questions of “why” and test remedies rather than just quickly trying the latest thing you’ve heard about.

So when you’re in your resource allocation meeting, think about what things you can say “great idea, let’s add it to the long-term suggestion list” as opposed to actioning it.

Or.

More precisely.

Just say no.

*** Note to portfolio companies … I talk in terms of “shiny objects” with everybody – trust me. So please don’t think this is about you just because we met more recently. I love you, too.

  • Gabrielle Dolceamore

    My marketing director just shared two of your articles for us to discuss at our weekly meeting. I have no idea what they’re about because I’m blinded by the heinous typos. This is one of the articles and I have no idea what you’re talking about. The only coherent sentences seem to be the incomplete ones. I don’t know who you are and why we are above editing, but I think you’s find a larger, more engaged audience if you work on your grammar.