Startup Killer #2: Challenging Everything

Startups, almost by definition, emerge as a reaction to a perceived gap or problem within a given industry. They are often referred to as disruptors and this is by no accident. Either they challenge the way that things have been done prior, or they challenge the fact that something should not exist. Issues arise, however, as one digs deeper into the industry at hand.

As a startup leader, inevitably, you uncover other issues that are tangential to your core problem. Even important issues. And maybe you add that problem to your list of problems that your startup is solving for. And then another. And another. And another. And eventually, your startup is, at least in your mind, “redefining an entire industry”.

The issue with challenging everything is that it’s an exercise in futility. This approach of “challenging everything” often results in drastically reduced execution. As a startup, you have to pick what your core consists of; what one thing about your given industry are you challenging? This is a very tricky thing.

One of the most memorable lessons from my time at Addepar was this: startups don’t fail because of starvation. Sure, they may run out of money, but that’s often a symptom rather than a root cause. More often then not, startups die of indigestion: they bite off more than they can chew. They try to swallow too much and end up choking on their own decisions. It’s a (very visual) lesson that has stuck with me.

Startups rarely die of starvation; they often die of indigestion.

For some, including us at Exeq, our core focus has a lot of different touch points. It may seem from the outside looking in that we’re taking too much (financial management, loyalty, payments, promotions, etc) on to our plates. The reality is that we’re taking on one thing at a time, and that each item is a smaller part of the singular belief that exists at our core: we believe that both consumers and merchants want to be directly connected via data.

Now as we speak to consumers and merchants alike, we’ve discovered areas ripe for innovation, ranging from gift cards to inventory management to financial tooling for parents with older children. But these items are not in our wheelhouse, because they are not a part of our core challenge. They are simply tangential. While those things are important, it would be a mistake for us to pursue those items. Do we have opinions about those things? Yes. Do we think that someone should do something about the problems in those areas? Yes. Do we think it should be us? Nope.

As startups, we have to be extraordinarily disciplined in how we approach our respective industries. We have to be focused on what’s on our respective plates instead of biting off more than we can chew.

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