Unnecessary Complexity

June 29, 2011

Humans learn by imitating. Sometimes, we imitate behavior before we know the underlying reasoning behind the behavior. This is a good thing, as it’s better to do something and start getting corrective feedback than to do nothing at all. But sometimes this leads down the wrong path.

The wrong path happens quite often in the world of tech startups, where an aspiring founder is strong in one area (either technology, business, or domain experience) and is trying to quickly learn the other areas.

One pattern I’ve noticed is that aspiring startup founders often add unnecessary complexity to ideas, usually through the form of unnecessary technology. (For example, when the business idea starts with an iPhone app.) In my experience, this most often happens to founders who are heavy on business training but very light on technology and/or domain expertise.

I think what happens is that the founder sees other startups, but doesn’t fully understand the mechanics or technology behind them, and so they seem magical and complex. Eventually, the founder begins to conflate the presence of complexity and even slight confusion with a successful idea. Then, when it’s time to draft his business plan, the founder adds what he or she feels is the right amount of complexity to make the idea successful.

What the founder is missing is that the idea seems complex on the outside, but the people running the business live it, breathe it, and understand every last detail of it. Also, successful startups have done their best to reduce complexity as much as possible, since complexity leads to inefficiency.

Don’t associate complexity and confusion with success. Complexity and confusion lead to failure. Strive for simplicity and understanding.

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