Focus, failures, and sometimes the customer is NOT right.

“We began by responding only to customer demand with our specialized service which derailed our in-house product development. It’s an easy trap to fall in as the money early on is very good. However you will eventually need to invest in your own products and core strengths to build a truly unique and profitable business. We are now highly focused, but I wish we’d done it sooner”

Sam Hutchinson, and Josh Adler of Prefix Technologies

Since apparently it’s fashionable to mention previous business failures in blog posts, I thought I’d mention one of my prior failures here, and then tie it up with focus and customer service.

Prefix Technologies took over Creamer Media’s EngineeringNews, and MiningWeekly after my old IIS/ASP based CMS which served them well for 4 years was becoming simply unmaintainable and unscalable and I started the port to move over to a hybrid Linux/Apache/PHP and Microsoft SQL backend as part of the migration.

It was a trying migration. It worked, but I simply didn’t have enough time and energy to continue the final ports of database migration and then adding the additional features they required. Root cause:  Freeside was  a moonlight engagement for me because we didn’t have enough money as a startup to pay everyone (well, apparently everyone but me) — which meant lack of … yeah, you guessed it — focus.

What was even more trying was that my business partner at the time (Hello Robert Budai) screwed me over no end. For example, not paying the company’s taxes, whilst still happily paying himself.

Entrepreneurial Lessons:

All of the above was pretty much the death knell for Freeside’s original CMS, and the company. I was rather relieved that Prefix could take over Creamer Media. For me — it was time for new business, and a new focus. I resigned from my previous job, and bit the bullet with Neology.

I have to agree with Sam and Josh’s views strongly. FOCUS. Don’t deviate.

The thing is, that sometimes existing customers and prospective new ones will throw things at you that causes your eye to waiver from that ever so elusive thing called “focus”. Sometimes you have to say no, even when everyone around you will say “but they’re willing to pay good money”.

That might work in an environment where you’re selling widgets, but it does not work in a high-stress, creative environment where your employees are the single greatest asset your company has.

Sometimes the customer JUST ISN’T right, dammit!

Even when they want to pay you a lot of money. It could be that their demands will so detract from your core business and focus that it may be more damaging than useful to engage. (Yes,  regardless of the damn money).

Strategy, architecture, wellbeing and not compromising your core values  sometimes DO have to come first. (Yes,  regardless of the damn money).

Continually placating and accommodating unreasonable customer demands detract you from your focus, and strategy and will eventually end up costing you more than they’re bringing you. There is a balance to be had. The problem is that identifying this kind of customer, or situation is sometimes not easy.

I’ve started implementing a fairly basic rule which I use to gauge whether I’m entering into one of these situations. And it regards the damn money.

“If it remotely  starts feeling like I’m going to have to slut myself out just to get the business, it needs some reconsideration”.


Author: roelf on March 19, 2010
Category: Business
Tags: , , ,
1 response to “Focus, failures, and sometimes the customer is NOT right.”
  1. Dieter says:

    Hi Roelf

    Great post, I agree with a whole lot of what you wrote. Thanks for sharing!

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