I was admiring a Christmas tree today and was inspired to turn the old adage "don’t miss the woods for the trees" on its head.
I think entrepreneurs should miss the woods for the trees.
Focus comes from being One Tree.
As entrepreneurs, it’s very difficult in this hyper competitive world to get just one business right. It’s all about planting that single seedling and making the tree grow.
I always maintain that in the early days of the Internet (98-99), Web Entrepreneurs were expected to do 3 things simultaneously:
If you consider each of the above tasks, they are mammoth trees on their own!
All 3 tasks are almost impossible to achieve simultaneously – and that is why most dot coms failed.
For instance, spending massive money on advertising via TV, Print and Sign Boards to generate consumer demand (which caused most dot coms to go bankrupt), is a very intricate science that only Fortune 500 brands like Coke or P&G have mastered over decades. It takes years and years to get the formulae (read ROI) right.
Dot coms that were given money to grow rapidly could never learn that science in a hurry and therefore crashed and burned!
After the Internet 1.0 forest fire died out, there were very few folks like Yahoo who survived and became tall gigantic trees. Somehow Yahoo had managed to create very compelling traffic, attract millions of users to their sites and most importantly managed to directly and effectively sell a brand new concept called Internet advertising to naïve brand owners.
Interestingly, in the ‘new’ Internet age of 2004 onwards, things have changed:
Assume you can create ‘great content’ (think imdb.com), then:
Similarly, think of Twitter and Facebook – they have only created a massive TRAFFIC business and hence content (user generated) and ads are flocking to them.
So, today, in most digital start ups all you have to do is try and grow one big tree (content, traffic or ads).
Choosing to be a special tree.
I always marvel at Zynga (creators of Mafia Wars, Farmville and Cityville). From nowhere, this small entrepreneurial gaming Company set out to be the most special tree ever!
In the enormous ‘woods’ of gaming, they chose to be very, very special…
If Zynga were a tree sapling (2007), you would never have bought it to plant in your garden 'coz the label read as:
Zynga in 2010 has become the tallest, strongest, and most fruit-bearing Tree ($1 billion topline) in the gaming woods where tons of other older, more mature trees are simply struggling to survive.
The effort to be ‘special’ is a never-ending process. Big trees that stopped being special and tried to grow new avatars of themselves have suffered badly. Sony to me was the best 'music machine maker' out there – Music systems and Walkmans was Sony's signature. Not any more. They got distracted making lots of other gadgetry and Apple’s iPod just lumber jacked them.
Remember Panasonic? They made the best ‘Cordless Handsets’ in the world and then started doing lots of other things. Ideally, Panasonic should have made the best mobile phones in the world.
At a much larger scale, look at Microsoft. I am writing this on MS word. None of us can survive without MS Power Point. Then why make Windows Mobile phones, Zune Music players etc and jeopardize your reputation? MS Office should have been what Google Docs is today!
It must be acknowledged that when your special tree stops growing (Pagers by Motorola) or begins to decay rapidly (Amplifiers by Technik), it’s a monumental task to become another Special tree. And that’s when mistakes are made.
Special Trees grow Special Fruits.
If you examine the fruits that you like, they all come from special trees. Think Mangoes, Oranges or even Bananas!
In a start up land also, once you carve out your unique offering and grow vertically in it, the fruits of your tree become very sought after.
Just take the example of Blackberry. Despite having a handset that is technically not so perfect, they are one of the biggest successes in the treacherous woods of the mobile handset market. Their specialty of offering e-mail on the go has become a promise that is irresistible. Who cares about that fact that they had to settle IP suits against them and may not have been the inventors of the core technology called mobile e-mail? Today, I see Blackberry proliferating all age demographics and the Blackberry Messenger seems to be a brand new fruit that is attracting much younger audiences to them. Like it or not, the tree called Blackberry will only grow taller and taller.
On the other side, look at Nokia. Despite being such an early mover, they took the ‘woods’ approach! They tried to become everything for everyone – so in South-East Asia they sold clamshell phones; in India they focused on selling inexpensive and cheap handsets and in the USA and EU I don’t even know what they tried to do. Today I see their woods on fire – not one product of theirs screams out loud and convinces me to buy it.
Please miss the woods and head for the trees. Once you climb on top of your tree, you will realize that the woods are nothing but a group of similar entrepreneurs who have grown their own trees.
If you enjoyed the column, contribute by commenting and sharing below!
Focus focus focus! that's what every one tells me :)
But what do i focus on? Is digital agency too broad a 'focus'? Should I be a specialist web design agency? Does that mean I refuse projects for SEO/SEM? What about social media focus?
Do I refuse ecommerce and web app development projects coz they are not my forte? International clients from Elance or local businesses that pay less but can offer better reputation building?
If only I knew which tree I want to climb on :) But I guess i will find out soon (I better!).
Or may be I could just be the banyan tree where every branch forms its own roots and adds to the strength of the tree. Will I need 100 years to do that? Just like the tree in front of the temple!
What you say makes sense. Though can't resources can always be added/found if I want to? Anyways don't want to hijack the discussion here.
Bottom line it must be about climbing a tree and not navigating a forest.
P.S: Checked your website. You seem to be in the same boat. Let's connect offline maybe.
simply loved the headings here - they say everything in a single line.
in your previous life you must've been a copywriter :)))))
i see this was posted on your happy budday!!!!