Be Best at Something

October 31st, 2006   |   by Frank Addante

Often times, companies get distracted by all the things that they -could- do, and don’t focus enough on what they do best. This is especially true, and very tempting, for startup companies who can seemingly do “anything” because they are so flexible and agile. This is dangerous behavior. It results in a lack of focus and diluted brand equity.

You want to pick the #1 problem that you solve and be the absolute best at solving it. This way, when someone says “I have X problem” the default company everyone thinks of is yours.

Here are some examples:

“I have a database problem” = go to Oracle
“I have a networking problem” = go to Cisco
“I need to sell something on the Internet” = go to eBay
“My cell phone is dropping calls” = go to Verizon
“I need a portable music device” = iPod
“I need a photocopier” = Xerox (this worked for them years ago, then they started to dilute their core message and competitors quickly stepped in with a vengeance)

Sure, all of these companies do a lot of other things… But, each have positioned themselves as the “default” or “defacto” standard for solving a problem.

With startups, it is difficult to commit to just one thing that you are best at because:

a) You don’t know if that one thing is always the right thing
b) You aren’t confident that you truly are “best” at solving it yet
c) You try to cast a wide net so you don’t miss out on any opportunities

Bottom line is that you have to do it. Pick something, stick to it and be best. Period.

My first company, Starting Point (Startup 1.0), was an Internet search engine and directory. We were simply the best metasearch engine on the Internet. When people wanted to “search the search engines”, we were the place to come. At the time, finding stuff using search engines was difficult. You had to go to multiple sources before finding the results you were looking for. (It seems as though this trend is starting to repeat itself with today’s search engine results). Starting Point was best at searching the search engines and, as a result, we quickly became the 7th most popular site on the Internet.

L90 (Startup 3.0), my third company, was the “premium advertising network”. When companies wanted first class advertising placement and high-end marketing technology, we were the place to come. Sure, we lost out on some of the low end business, but in the end, that actually helped the business survive the dot-com bubble burst.

At Zondigo (Startup 4.0), my fourth company, we never really answered the question “what do we do best?”. So, what we became best at was changing our business plan. As a result, we ended up doing a lot of one-off custom work for clients and never really gained traction in any particular area. The company eventually failed.

At my current company, StrongMail (Startup 5.0), we struggled with trying to stick to only one core message. We can solve so many different problems with email delivery ranging from performance to reliable email delivery to dynamic content. As a result, we weren’t the default answer for companies when they said “we have X problem”. So, we put a stake in the ground. We focused on proving that StrongMail is the best way to get email reliably delivered to the Inbox. We went out with the message that we are like “FedEx for email delivery” and now, when people have email delivery problems, we are their first call.

It takes confidence and discipline, but it is very important to be best at something. It will help your company stay focused, it will build confidence in your entire organization (especially your sales/marketing team) and most importantly, your customers/users will think to go to you first.

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