Chapter 5

Wax On, Wax Off

(Know the “Why”)

“If you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up.”

– J.M. Power

What is one of the most common mistakes new entrepreneurs make?

Trying to imitate what other businesses are doing without first understanding why they’re doing it.

If you don’t understand the “why”, then you’re just going through the motions. You don’t know what your actions really accomplish.

You Want to be Mr. Miyagi

Remember The Karate Kid movie from the 80s? Mr. Miyagi, the karate master, put his student, Daniel, through a regimen of waxing cars, sanding a deck, and painting the fence to teach him some fundamental karate moves without letting Daniel know that that’s what he was really learning.

Daniel didn’t know the “why” of the tasks he was asked to do; he just thinks he’s doing chores. But Mr. Miyagi knew exactly what these tasks were meant to accomplish. And by knowing the “why”, the master is able to use these techniques to help the student win a karate tournament.

Thinking you can build a successful app business just by copying what someone else has done without knowing the “why” is like thinking you can win a karate tournament by waxing cars and painting fences.

You want to be Mr. Miyagi.

Know the “Why”

Why your actions need to be consistent with your overall strategy …

Because whatever competitive advantage you gain are taken away by actions that are inconsistent with your overall strategy. In other words, inconsistent activities cancel each other out.

You can be busy running around doing this and that yet still come up empty because while one activity moves you towards your goal, another activity moves you further away.

Let’s say that your strategy is to build a flagship app, then all of your efforts should be focused on this one app. But if in the middle of it, you get tempted by an easier/shorter project and want to take both of them on at the same time, you are compromising any competitive advantage you may have gained by trying to straddle two boats at the same time.

You’re impeding development.

It’s like stopping in the middle of a NASCAR race to take on an extra passenger. The extra weight slows you down, and you have to adjust the way you drive the race car in order to compensate for the extra passenger. Think you’re gonna win that race? Not a chance!

What you should be doing instead is devote all your time, energy and manpower to continuously improving the flagship app and making it harder for competitors to imitate. In short, if your overall strategy is to go deep, then your actions need to be consistent with going deep, not going wide.

Why your activities need to reinforce each other …

Because reinforcing activities are hard for competitors to imitate.

When competitors try to imitate an activity without understanding how the individual components of your business interlock together, reinforce one another, they will fail.

Let’s say that you send out a press release about your new app which garners a lot of buzz. You rival tries to do the same, but receives no buzz. They thought they can get the same result by copying a single activity (sending out their own press release). What they failed to recognize is that this is only a piece of the puzzle.

Your buzz did not come from just sending out a single press release. Your reputation did not come from helping the media. Your success did not result from building a loyal fan base. Your top position did not result from responding quickly to market changes.

It’s not one of these activities. It’s all of it … and much, much more.

Setting up an interlocking system composed of all these activities increases your effectiveness and your uniqueness. That is why it’s hard for competitors to imitate. This is definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Why you need to optimize your efforts for maximum efficiency …

Because that’s the only way to compete with the big boys.

If you have a small development studio and want to compete with the likes of Rovio and Halfbrick, then you need to be highly effective in everything you do. There’s no large development and marketing budget to fall back on. It’s about getting the most out of whatever and whoever you’ve got.

Clearly define the role each person plays in your company. This will prevent duplication of effort. You never want to hear someone say: “I thought YOU were going to do that.”

Make sure everyone understands the priorities of the project. This will prevent unnecessary delays. If the goal is to finish Feature X so the first version can be released, everyone’s focus should be on finishing Feature X, and not divert attention to Feature Y.

Properly assign tasks according to each person’s level of expertise. This will improve efficiency and prevent employee burnout. Having a junior programmer work on a difficult part of the code that would’ve otherwise taken a senior coder half the time to complete is inefficient.

Ease or eliminate constraints. This will free up more time for other tasks. For example, your app should have a dedicated support page where users can self-diagnose or troubleshoot common issues before they contact you. Invest time and effort into a comprehensive and searchable Knowledge Base along with FAQs can greatly decrease the amount of time you spend answering support questions.

Identify and shore up the weakest link. If someone’s not performing to expectations, determine the underlying reason. If they need more support, provide it. If they’re not up to the task, let them go. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. Shore up the weakest link, and the whole system becomes stronger.

And what if you’re a lone developer? Then optimization is even more critical for you. Know what’s truly needed in order for you to succeed. Since you can’t do everything, identify and work only on those tasks that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. You cannot afford to waste time and effort on anything that does not contribute directly to your goal.

In the end, optimizing for efficiency simply means you cut and prune until you have just what you needed … nothing more, nothing less.

Why you must always be innovating …

Because in the tech field, when you stop innovating, you fall behind. When you fall behind, you become irrelevant. And being irrelevant kills your business.

Innovation and value are what give you a competitive edge over rivals.

If you’re not innovating, you’re imitating, and the app stores are filled with imitators. Just do a search for “flashlight” in the app stores and you’ll see what I mean. How do you expect to stand out if you’re just another “me-too” app?

It’s not enough to be the first to market anymore. You have to provide the best value or be the most innovative. Even then, good ideas are quickly copied, so you have to develop a strategy based on elements that are difficult for competitors to replicate (such as a good system, a large and loyal fan base, and a unique company culture where everyone and everything work together like a well-oiled machine).

If you have a well-conceived idea, well-developed strategies, and a well-run company, you don’t fear competition. Why? Because you have something that’s sustainable and not easily imitated or duplicated.

From the Why to the What

Now that you know the why, the challenge is to always make sure that whatever actions you take are consistent with your end goals, reinforce one another, and are optimized for maximum efficiency. And above all, innovate, because if you’re not thinking forward, you’re moving backward. Innovation puts you on the offensive instead of being on the defensive.

What is the point to all this?

The point is to create barriers to entry for your competitors and make your business less vulnerable to attack by continuously strengthening that barrier. Each activity/element you add and “fit” into to your system makes that barrier stronger and less penetrable. Your uniqueness and success is made up of the hundreds of decisions you’ve made and the actions you took to integrate various parts of your business. This is not easily copied. And when they try, they will not succeed because only you know and understand the intricacies of your system, how everything comes together just right.

Remember, competitors may easily copy your activities, but it would be extremely difficult to copy your “fit”. And creating that unique “fit” among all your activities is your secret sauce.

← Go to Chapter 4: May the Force Be With You (Understanding the Competitive Forces)

→ Go to Chapter 6: Nitro-Scrambled Egg-and-Bacon Ice Cream (Coming Up With Winning Ideas for Apps)

Return to beginning of book.