When my mind becomes overwhelmed by new, creative ideas, I meditate on this simple truth about Nike: the entire company was started by one man, Bill Bowerman, a track coach, who just wanted to “scratch his own itch” and help his athletes by creating one thing that he thought was better than the other available things.
His beginnings were very humble, using a waffle iron to prototype his new shoes but my point is this: Most massive companies started as just an idea for one thing that would be better than other available things.
It’s a powerful formula for success. People like the first thing you make and you begin to profit from it. Then you start to reinvest that success into efforts to make additional superior products and because of the trust you’ve built up because of your first products the sale of new things becomes a lot easier and this virtuous, profit-making cycle ensues.
But it all starts from making that one thing that’s way better and creating some trust in your company. This is something like the zero to one moment Peter Thiel speaks of–creating something new and significantly better for people to gain an early and commanding lead before competition steps in to make the environment to win over brand loyalty more challenging.
Now Nike is massively diversified. An Amazon search for Nike yields over 500,000 product results. That’s five times as many products available on Amazon from Adidas.
But mastery of one thing is usually needed before moving on to diversification. Nike was founded in 1964. It’s had 50+ to diversify.
With technology, even when you become a multi-billion dollar company, focus and constraint in your offerings still seems to be the winning formula.
Google started like Nike, by just creating one superior product in search.
But now, unlike Nike’s thousands of products, Google is different: they really only have seven blockbuster products with over a billion users and the rest of their products are more speculative and they are discipline about killing their less popular innovations to only commit to big wins.
Apple is in the same boat. In an interview with Charlie Rose a few years ago Apple CEO Tim Cook said “Despite this table being so small that you and I are sitting at,” Cook told Rose, “you could put every Apple product on it, and yet this year our revenues will be approximately $180 billion.”
He goes on to say that it’s not about what we’re going to do next, it’s more about what we’re not going to do next. We have so many ideas but we have to just stay focused on doing a few things really, really well. We’re the most valuable company in the world and yet all our products could fit on this small table.”
That really gets me! Consider that: The most valuable company in the world and their entire current product line can fit one table.
A huge number of companies fail because they become unfocused and try to do too much, too quickly instead of just focusing on making one thing really, really great.
So I’m starting a new list in my to-dos today called, “Probably don’t do these ideas.”
And I know that’s the right strategy.