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Go With Your Strength

I see many companies that start out with a compelling idea for solving a nasty business problem, but somewhere along the way their implementation gets a lot fuzzier. In more than a few situations, we are best served if we remember to go with our strength.

The genesis of any new product is an idea. While some products are built simply because the technology is feasible, the really great products come from the marriage of an idea and a business problem that this idea solves. Usually, these ideas come from within companies that have serious domain experience: this is the catalyst for the significant ideas on how to tackle the tough problems they face.

Something happens along the way for too many companies. As they move forward to build their products that solve these problems, this compelling vision can get seriously diluted. In the interest of building a full-fledged product rather than a proof of concept, they start to add things. It can start innocently, with the shopping-cart paradigm that is familiar to anyone that has bought something online. While there is an important problem to be solved, somebody decides the application will get more eyeballs if it handles the social interaction like Facebook. Maybe it would be cool to communicate within this community as with Skype or Twitter, and of course there is the need to be able to blog, and that will have to be supported with RSS feeds, and then there is the rankings and tag clouds and...you get the picture.

Pretty soon we have Bloat 2.0.

Suddenly, if we look at their product from the perspective of what's working or what's front and center for the user, we see a mashup of also-ran technology, none of which was invented here. It's a lot of different things, all those things not quite as polished as the apps they have been mimicking. And the original idea, the whole point for heading down this product path, the uniqueness, is now a lot tougher to see.

One thing to remember is that all the things they have been mimicking - the Facebooks, the Skypes, the Twitters - got to where they are by excelling in a single idea, not by trying to be all things to all people. They do that one key thing really well, and have become a leader in that arena. Others follow, and the VC's will only fund so many of them before ADD kicks in. Not many of the followers make a killing.

If you have got a great idea, if you think you know how to solve a problem that others haven't been able to do, stick with that strength for crying out loud. Resist the temptation of adding all the bells and whistles that seem to be hot, even if the implementation of these things is relatively easy - while you might be adding incremental value, you are diluting your core differentiation. You will probably find that the implementation of your core idea is fraught with challenges that don't exist when you are implementing established technology (as someone has already solved those problems), but if you deal with those challenges, you have something special.

Go with your strength, focus on the core. Push through and really nail that secret sauce of yours. If you can work your way through those challenges and see your valuable, well differentiated solution to the market, you will not find a crowded space.

That is, of course, until others start to copy your ideas and lose sight of theirs. Sweet.

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