Unlike most stints, if you are starting up your own venture, you are required to be simple. Elevator pitch needs to be simple. Your deck needs to be simple. Your brand messaging needs to be simple. Culture needs to be simple. In fact, we can say ‘X’ needs to be simple, where X is anything that affects your startup.
Why is it so? Investors, co-workers, and even your users are sufficiently smart people (in most cases) to understand complex things. This was a
meta-thought that boggled me during my journey. I was able to fix this puzzle and I thought I must share my findings so that a clearer picture can be painted.
In my experience, I have found all great questions starting with ‘why.’ So this post is dedicated to the same. The ‘how’ and ‘what’ parts will follow in later posts.
Because that is what we are taught! The world teaches us to be elaborate and complex. Schools push us to learn complex things. Colleges expect us to write intricate stuff. Employers reward us on being circuitous.
Simple seems boring to us. I remember a scene from the movie 3 idiots where Amir Khan proposes a simple alternative (pencil) to the complex solution for the problem of writing in space (zero gravity pen). The director got baffled. It is because simple leaves us dumb. It makes us feel stupid. And, it is generally against what is taught to us. No one wants to feel that way.
But, we were not like this by birth. We asked simple questions. We questioned status quo. That is why we irritated our parents. Over a period of time and with “rigorous training” we are made to let go off those instincts and are trained to live with complexity. And, this works well with most of us for most of the times. Until you start a startup.
Reasons to embrace simplicity
I will give you two synonymous reasons to simplify your startup.
I recently completed reading a great book by Richard Koch- Simplify: How the Best Businesses in the World Succeed. It is a must read for those who are on a quest for simplicity. The book proposes 2 ways to simplify your business. I have tried to overly generalize both of them with the following graph
COST : price or, the effort required from the user to attain value.
MARKET SIZE : no. of users or, total revenue.
The graph summarizes how the market behaves w.r.t. the simplification viz it changes its size non-linearly. Henry Ford set out with a bold vision of making low-cost cars. He built cars without compromising on quality and still reduced the cost through multiple innovations. Result? Ford became the face of automobile revolution. The trick is that we are generally not able to anticipate the market’s behavior change on cutting down the price into half or, making product two times simpler to use. According to Koch, the market responds to simplification by increasing its size many folds (sometimes even thousand times). Thus, ease of use or, low cost of the product/service is imperative for your success.
The market responds to simplification by increasing its size many folds (sometimes even 1000 times).
Now, let us talk in terms of each user. How does simplification works for a single user? Why is it so important? I will cite one of my favorite researchers, BJ Fogg. He has given a graph that has helped me in designing strategies and deciphering successful ones.
ABILITY : Ease of doing a task (e.g. using your product)
REQUIRED MOTIVATION : Gravity of the reason for performing a task.
(The actual model has one more parameter called trigger but I am omitting it here to focus on the nature of the relationship between the other 2 parameters)
This graph, similar to previous one, shows that an individual’s nature changes somewhat abruptly w.r.t. to the simplicity of the task in hand. It can be easily understood with the example of Twitter. The ability to blog opinions was increased way too much by limiting it’s size to 140 characters. Thus, it required much less motivation to blog as compared to existing methods, attracting even a lazy person to join Twitter. Again, it tricks us how an individual suddenly starts using a product. We can’t easily anticipate such changes in an individual’s behavior. But, as evident simple products do win users.
Every startup requires the user to change her behavior up to a certain extent i.e. you have to persuade her to use your product. Simplicity will help in this persuasion and returns for you will be massive because:
Simple Product → Less required motivation → Larger user base → Larger market size → More Revenue.
Thus, the above graphs reflect the same behavior on two different scales. And, the unique part of both graphs is the non-linear nature which makes it hard to predict the impact of simplicity on behavior change.
I tried to convince you to embrace simplicity for your startup by giving both macro and micro point of views. It is hard because the upside of doing so will not be evident initially. I think we need to ponder on these ideas:
1. Focus on X-axis: In the pursuit to become simple, one should focus on ability or cost rather than motivation or market size because they are largely independent variables that you can change via multiple smart iterations.
You have to make your proposed value simple to attain.
2. 10x: Since the nature of the curve for individual behavior and market behavior is non-linear, one needs significant change on the x-axis, in order to realize the tempting enormous results on required motivation or market size. Again, this will require iterations and you might see small pieces of success in the same direction, e.g. your users are becoming increasingly happy with your product with every iteration. And, one day you will experience the inflection point when the market will start expanding or new users will start adopting your product — that is how Product-Market fit may look like.
Marc Andreessen initially introduced the concept of product/market fit in this post published in 2007. It was an…medium.com
3. First Principles: Lastly, start by thinking in simple terms. If you have loved physics, this will be easy. Start reasoning by fundamental facts rather than dogma or analogy. This is the best way to come up with great simple ideas. You will invite criticism and so did all great simplifiers. Listen to them, test your ideas but stick to your philosophy.
Make it Simple. Dead simple.