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K.I.S.S. Your Startup | | Where Ideas Grow

K.I.S.S. Your Startup

[Photo by positiv]

The number one rule of starting a company: KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID (K.I.S.S.).

The number two rule of starting a company: K.I.S.S.

You get the point…

The reason I found it so necessary to not only capitalize my favorite business phrase, but also to repeat it, is because of the number of times people have approached me with startup ideas (or even tried to start companies; myself included) that were so much more complicated then they had to be. This only resulted in frustration and even failure. However, if you just K.I.S.S., you can make sure that everything falls into place. Here’s why.

K.I.S.S. to Actually Launch a Business

If you don’t K.I.S.S., you’re going to spend countless hours, days, weeks, and even months sitting around a table and trying to think of the best product features, coolest design, etc. It’ll be fun and you’ll think of tons of awesome permutations, combination, and new ideas. But at the end of the day, you’re not a think tank; you’re trying to build a business yet you won’t even have a product. Avoid this trap. Instead, K.I.S.S. and get something to market. Start small and you can expand from there. Too many people get caught up in thinking about their dream product instead of building version one.

K.I.S.S. to Be Adaptable

Let’s assume you K.I.S.S.’d and got your product out. What is the first thing you should be doing? Getting feedback from your customers. While focus groups can provide valuable insights, real world testing provides answers. Imagine this: You just spent the last six months thinking of an idea and you launch it and find out that it’s not at all like what your clients want. So you’ve just wasted six months of “thinking.” Instead, let’s say you’ve spent one month, you launch, and it isn’t well received. At least you haven’t lost a lot of time, and you can very easily adapt because you haven’t spent that much time in development yet. Keep in mind, the more time you spend developing internally without feedback, the more entrenched your initial (possibly uninformed) decisions become in your product. So instead, get it up and out quickly and be in a position to react to the market.

K.I.S.S. to Save Money

Thinking along the same lines. Let’s say you spent those six months developing your product. This means you’ve also been spending money for six months before finding out that it’s all wrong. That’s a lot of money wasted. Instead, imagine you’ve only taken a month to build a product, and the next five months improving it based on customer feedback. You’ve spent the same amount of money in both instances except in the latter, you’ve come so much farther and spent so much more efficiently (even saved some to I bet!). Which position would you rather be in?

K.I.S.S. So Your Customers Can Understand Your Business

If you over-think a product, it’s going to get so complex that you might even confuse your customers. Isn’t it easier to explain to customers that your product washes dishes versus washes dishes while it does laundry and predicts the outcome of football games.

K.I.S.S. So You Can Find Your Value

Finally, the most important reason to K.I.S.S. is so that you focus on what you’re actually good at. If you over-think a product before it’s out, then you may skip over why you built it in the first place.


So now let’s dive into two examples.

The first is a concierge service of sorts.

A good friend of mine claims to be an expert on creating one-day/one-night itineraries (e.g., restaurants, art shows, parties, events, etc.) in the city he lives in (and in fact, he most certainly is). He can organize that perfect first date or recommend a way-off-the-beaten-path Saturday afternoon. So he thought he should build a concierge service business around this knowledge. Knowing that it’s always better to start a company with a partner, he teamed up with a tech geek. After three months, they came back with this incredibly involved website which is part social network, part recommendation engine, part local reviews, part concierge, and part a whole lot of other things. They then spec’d this out and it came to over $30k and six months of development time. He was blown away and certainly wasn’t looking to spend $30k on what he thought could be a hobby. And so he came to me.

What did I tell him? K.I.S.S. The real value in his business is his knowledge of the city; a depth of knowledge that few people have. So why do you really need a social network? He agreed. Why do you really need local reviews if he’s the one pulling itineraries together. He agreed. Ultimately, it came down to the fact that all he really needed was a website with one page which described his expertise and a form to request his services. Cost? $250, max! This was so awesome. Now he could provide the exact value that he always set out to for only $250. If ultimately he was wrong and people didn’t want this advice, he’d only lose $250, not $30k+. And finally, if he was partially right, he could at least adapt to his customers without feeling like he’d just poured his life savings down the drain.

The second is one of my businesses:

The goal of is to help college students transition to life after college. The idea started as a portal with tutorials on all of the issues that recent college graduates face (e.g., how to rent your first apartment without credit, how to open your first bank account, how to navigate office politics). However, our product development got the best of us and next we decided that we needed a tool that would draw in our audience. So we decided we’d create a roommate finder. Right about then, Facebook announced their application platform so of course we needed to build our roommate finder on Facebook. However, that wasn’t enough. Since we could, why shouldn’t we just fully integrate the roommate finder with Facebook AND our website (i.e., so you could create or browse profiles on Facebook and edit/create/browse the same profiles from our website). Check. Next we decided that to keep our community “safe” we’d require users to input .edu email addresses. It kept going and going and going, and you get the point.

And unfortunately for us, we built all of this stuff. And you know what? We spent tens of thousands of dollars more than we expected to. And many more months than we were planning.

Why? Because we lost site of what we were good at: Creating, for the first time, really helpful tutorials on how to transition to life after college geared specifically towards recent college graduates. Instead, we spent hours paying outsources programmers (never outsource programmers in a startup) to create tools that we had to tweak a thousand and one times and that our customers didn’t even want (yet). The time and money wasted was extraordinary.

Now we find ourselves turning back to square one. Since we didn’t have the budget to continue tweaking the roommate finder and even now it isn’t where it needs to be, we’re deemphasizing it. Ultimately, we’re focusing on what we’re good at - our content - and our business is doing a lot better as a result. Once we’ve established a market-leading position through our content, then we’ll reconsider a roommate finder and other tools. (To be fair, when we bring on a full-time programmer, we’d also consider tools, but until we have a very strong competency in web development, we need to focus on solely what we’re good at - content - instead of wasting money on what we’re not good at - developing online tools.)


Real simple. Stupidly simple actually. K.I.S.S. You’ll save money, more importantly time, and most importantly, be in a position to adapt to your customers and lead the marketplace.

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