Simplicity. Just that.
Recently I’ve been frustrated at the time taken to get our demo ready for distribution partners. Starting up in financial services was never going to be easy with or without tech. Robustness has to support every innovation. Also, as one would expect, financial services disruption is wrapped in regulatory challenges and legal complexities. Development time is oxygen to a startups so as you can probably guess I haven’t been a happy Larry these summer days.
Who is at fault? Undeniable. Me.
I have been both consumed by recent fintech advances and too keen to please everybody. As a result, EquipmentConnect has been distracted from its pledge to introduce 1.) more affordable equipment finance via disintermediation 2.) faster equipment finance via technology and 3.) easier equipment finance via good design.
Also this week, I met with the founders of a digital golfing business. Both are accomplished players with strong handicaps and their passion was instilled deep in their business. Combining that with their professional marketing backgrounds, it was too easy to conclude they were set for sure success. One issue though. A huge issue. Their product and online presence is so multi-layered and scattered that visitors were lost in the complexity and conversion rates have been incredibly low. Each bell and whistle was considered individually on it’s own commercial merits but the overall platform is just too muddled. They weren’t running before they could walk. They were sprinting, swimming and skipping all at the same time… before they could walk.
Considering both sets of woe initiated a train of thought that carried me right along the thameslink. Successful companies start with simple ideas and pursue them purely. Obsessively.
I’m going to tell you about five companies that really excel in keeping it simple.
Company One: Franco Manca
Everybody loves pizza. Well at least the 99% do… Pizza haters are outnumbered by UKIP supporters these days. Which is why I’m always amazed that so many Pizza restaurants ram their menu with everything from chicken milanese to prawn skewers.
Franco Manca was born in the South London market of Brixton back in ’08 when founder Giuseppe Mascoli saw potential if simplicity was combined with quality and delivered cheaply. The purity of ‘the market environment’ was instrumental in determining the business model. Quality was realised with the finest ground flour and a cheese maker from Italy was even summoned to their Somerset farm to ensure conformity with Italian buffalo mozzarella production.
My local Franco Manca on a Tuesday night.. Not an empty seat to be found
The Franco Manca menu has five pizzas with literally just a hand full of toppings. There is one brand of beer. No desert. Minimal sides. Depressing for the consumer generation? Except it all tastes wonderful. By keeping the options simple, waste is pretty much eradicated, greater economies of scale fall into place and customers order faster thus increasing table turnover. Oh and ingredients are always fresh!
Takeaway: Less can be more. But only if there is real quality.
Company Two: Apple
In 1984 I popped into the world. More importantly, Apple Inc, then a well established computer manufacturer released the first Macintosh, a computer enshrined in simplicity. Priced at $2,000 the Mac was developed to connect with non-technical home users and ensure a stress-free user experience. The new operating system used a GUI, Graphical User Interface, with a simple system of folders and icons and the computer hardware itself was simple in its form and design.
Steve Wozniak, the chief engineer and outside tech circles, shamefully forgotten co-founder of Apple, was obsessive in using solid engineering principles based on simple logical progression even when pushing the limits of technological ambition. The late Steve Jobs, sadly no longer with us was even more passionate with simplicity and reduced product design to its very essence. He famously said ” That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But its worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains”
With almost $60bln in gross profits last year nobody can dispute the success of this pillar. From the insistence of just having one button at the front of the iphone to the incredibly clean simple unitary design of the apple mac, Jobs mantra holds true in the present day.
Takeaway: Simplicity can be great when instinctive and intuitive.
Company Three: Google
The original Google Browser Page as born from research at Stanford in 1997
Anybody younger than 23 you will have to trust me. Search engines before google consisted of excite, alta vista, yahoo were HORRIBLE… They were effectively a directory page that looked similar to the penultimate page in your free local newspaper. As well as categories and adds, popups were everywhere. Overwhelmed would be an understatement.
Google not only vastly improved the relevance of search results, by way of an improved algorithm, they also pivoted their solution around simplicity and conciseness. The doctrine spread across products from Gmail to Addwords to the interface of the cloud.
Takeaway: Only do something if you can do it better than the incumbents. Don’t do everything at once but build up offerings as you go.
Company Four: Nike
The original Nike logo
From the unhelpfully vague tag line ‘Just Do It’ to the simple confident boldness of the swoosh logo, Nike excel at simplicity. When Fila and Reebok were adding complexity in design, features, and communication Nike stayed almost boringly short and straight. But guess what.. it has worked.
On releasing their recent Tiempo Premier black boots, Nike proclaimed ‘Simplicity is Genius’ .
By not over-stretching your product or over-elaborating on your marketing you present the vision of a company that is pursuing greatness in what it does best.
Takeaway: Simple messages communicate best.
Company Five: Mini (BMC)
Simplicity often allows agility.
The final example is more precisely a product rather than a company but compels me to be included. Back in 1957 there was a oil shortage spurred by a political crisis on the Suez canal and the British Motor Company pulled the trigger on the development of the Mini. The car had to be less than 10ft with at least 80% of space devoted to human and luggage carriage and it’s engineer Issigonis rushed it to launch two years later.
Famed for its economical running and agility in the city environment the Mini was a runaway success. Then came racing in the early 60’s where the mini powered by it’s lightweight design soared to success culminating in the 1964 Monte Carlo rally won by Paddy Hopkirk.
Takeaway: If you keep it simple it will be agile and in today’s tech world that is so important.
So that’s it, five examples of wonderful simplicity. All of these companies cracked success by embracing and purifying the uniqueness of their product. In today’s world of information deluge and consequently, increasingly fussy attention spans, it’s so important that us entrepreneurs sharpen our message. Keep it simple and keep it sharp.
The US Navy coined the acronym, ‘KISS- Keep it simple stupid” when working with Lockheed Martin engineers in the 60’s and I’ve now decided to set that as my iphone lock screen so every morning starts with the a kick in the behind and a sharp reminder to focus.
In a future post I will discuss some of the actions I have taken, what was cut from the development and what was prioritised.