Bart Lorang | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Bart Lorang

Background:  

FullContact is a Denver-based software company that offers professionals, teams and developers a cloud-based contact management platform.

The Mistake:

I tried to boil the ocean.

A lot of founders start off with an amazing long-term vision for their companies, ideas for what they are going to build in 10 or 20 years. That’s nearly impossible to execute in the early stages.

A couple different times earlier in my career, I took on two, three or even four things at once. For example, I would be serving a consumer audience and an enterprise audience simultaneously. They are vastly different goals, so I would have to figure out go-to-market dynamics, the product and engineering requirements, the customer support requirements, the finance, the hiring, etc. – all at once.

It’s impossible to hold all that in your brain, and it’s impossible to hold it in the collective consciousness of your organization.

Back in the 2000s, when I was working on my old company, Dimension Technology Solutions, I was trying to solve a defense industry’s problem, a mining industry’s problem, and a manufacturing industry’s problem – all at the same time. I had to learn all those three industries’ languages because I constantly was moving back and forth between clients. I had to go to all those industries’ events so I could be a thought leader in each of them.

On a personal level, that caused me to be traveling more than 300 days per year. It killed my physical fitness, drained my mental health dramatically. I also had basically no social life.

On the company level, we had to build products and features for three different industries, which had 80 percent in common, but at the end of the day, it stretched our product and engineering team to the max. They were about ready to quit on us.

On top of all that, our customers were all somewhat dissatisfied with us. We weren’t serving any particular market segment extraordinarily well. It was a classic jack of all trades, master of none situation.

I tried to boil the ocean.

The Lesson:

What kills small companies, and particularly startups, is a lack of resources coupled with a lack of focus.

Had we put all of our investment and time into one industry, we would have developed the muscle to really dominate it, get to a 40 or 50 percent market rate, and let word of mouth dynamics do the rest. You can capture 5 percent of three different markets, but that doesn’t really work in the long term.

I think you should go into a beachhead market and focus on the smallest thing imaginable that you can be the absolute best in the world at and then try to take adjacent things to that as you expand.

It’s important to step back and think about how to scale. Break down your vision into chunks that your team can actually handle one step at a time.

FullContact is on Twitter at @FullContact.

Photo courtesy of FullContact.

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