My inspiration for this post came whilst I was sitting at Starbucks the other day. Watching what I believe was a university student at work on an architectural drawing. He was using a giant pad with pencils and an eraser. Of course in front of him was a MacBook pro that he used to check Facebook constantly in between short, spastic bouts of drawing. I watched him for about thirty minutes – during witch he managed to draw for about 10 minutes at the most. The other twenty minutes was spent cruising Facebook. Obviously as Facebook nears it’s IPO – this sort of behavior is exactly why they are killing it when it comes to average time spent but it must also be why students like this suffer in their ability to craft something meaningful – or even focus.
As a high schooler I actually never set foot on a high school campus. I was home-schooled and frequently I would find myself studying in my room with the tv on or the radio or both. It probably wasn’t the wisest study acumen but I was an avid multitasker and thrived in the commotion at times. Was I doing my best work – probably not.
Now I find myself back in the driver’s seat of a product, a team to look over and a business to help grow. Simplicity, focus, and execution are my main goals and what I hope are the leadership pillars I can guide my team with.
You might have heard this before or maybe you haven’t but it’s a great term oft forgot by product crafters of the current generation. Keep it simple, stupid. I am writing this post on a plane using my iPad and iA Writer. I love it’s simplicity and singular focus of making the construction of words a dream. Sure they have added iCloud features but for the most part the changes over time have been subtle and focused on enhancing the main writing experience. Simplicity is much harder than one thinks and it is much easier to just keep adding things in hopes that it will draw someone in somehow.
If you are building a product or a startup – simplicity should be your goal. I try to remind myself of that daily.
Buy some Blinders
Distractions are plenty. Social networks, the news, instant messaging, email, the phone and any other device or object that has the ability to reach out and steal your focus. Bosses, customers, partners, employees, friends and family are added to the list as capable, but unavoidable people distractions. Conferences, events and any other little gathering guised as beneficial meetings are so plentiful these days that one could spend all their time attending versus doing.
It is easy to get distracted. One must find their groove and learn how to block distractions but also one must come to the conclusion that in order to craft something great – one must spend more time crafting.
It really is that simple. Generally when I look out over the SEA startup scene – the doers are usually found doing more than attending. It’s why you see a certain band of folks rarely at regular events – they just dont have the time. The more time you spend on your craft, the better you will become. To be clear I am not saying don’t go to events but moderate your intake appropriately.
Building a product or running a startup is a craft. Success won’t come easy or quickly but it can come and it is possible to enjoy the process of crafting. This time around I am working harder to enjoy my craft and realize that it takes time to do it well.
Execute, execute, execute…
If you are lucky enough to be in a startup or you are in the midst of starting one – the hardest part of it all – besides simplicity and focus, is executing. It can be debated all day what is more clever – the amazing epiphany or the execution of said epiphany.
As clever as Instagram the idea is (which was born out of another idea that wasn’t going so well), I would argue that the execution of the idea was what really mattered. Staying incredibly lean, focusing on a very specific use case and going the extra mile to keep the product simple is not for the faint of heart. It would have probably been easier to add more bodies, throw in more whizz bang features and add to the complexity in hopes that even more growth was possible but yet the founders stayed the course and profited for it. Although the Android version is now growing a ton as well – IG did focus for a long time on one platform only as well. Sure – Instagram is an unreal success story but when you read about some of the history, it’s back-end prowess and the lengths they went through to stay lean – then one learns to appreciate what it took to execute at that level.
I am probably considered a grey hair when compared to most of the craftsmen in the local startup scene but I wake up each day knowing I have so much more to learn about my craft.
Enjoy the moments…
Michael Smith Jr. is the Chief Product Officer at Spuul – yes we are hiring. Prior to Spuul, Michael worked at Yahoo! as the director of Global Tech Initiatives. Michael spends his time between Thailand and Singapore working on putting SEA on the global startup map. You can follow Michael on twitter.