How focused is your startup idea?

As developers, most of us are always mulling over ideas for potential new services to bring to the world. Who wouldn’t want to say they came up with something Digg, Wikipedia, eBay, etc? And every day, many developers take the plunge on their ideas. Good for them! However, sometimes I look at new ideas, and I wonder how focused some of these business ideas are. In a world postively saturated with goods and services, it’s imperative that you have a crystal clear image of what your business is going to deliver, how it’s going to deliver, and to whom it will be delivered. If you don’t, you’ve already handicapped your chances of success. For example, today I got a newsletter from Amazon Web Services, which discussed the finalists in the AWS Start-Up Challenge. All of them had a fair amount of empty marketing fluff, but one really stuck out to me:

Zephyr enables enterprises to manage their test departments more efficiently, boost productivity, reduce costs and provide IT leaders with real-time visibility into all aspects of their software quality cycle.

I don’t use Zephyr, and can’t speak to their quality, but that summary is a veritable buzzword orgasm. I cannot even tell what Zephyr does from that summary. Is it a consulting firm, software product, or a consulting firm using a custom software product? If it’s software, is it hosted or can I run it on my own network? What service(s) do they provide to actually accomplish any of the benefits they outline? When I hear about companies that try to be all things to a given segment of the market, I’m immediately reminded of a talk by Jason Fried, in a section where he talks about giving up on hard problems:

Software developers love to focus on hard problems, because it makes them feel like they are really good at what they do. Sometimes it’s an interesting challenge, and there’s nothing wrong with hard problems sometimes, but most of the time you want to give up on the hard problems. You want to look for simple problems, there are an abundance of simple problems to solve, and there’s a huge opportunity for people to continue to solve simple problems. Post-It Notes, [for example]. A lot of people [think] that you can’t make money solving simple problems, but you can…There ’s a lot of examples of really interesting products that are dead-simple solving common problems that are incredibly successful. You don’t have to design the next rocket; you don’t have to design the next algorithm that’s going to search the entire web. There’s lots of other solutions, lots of other things you could be doing.
After checking out Zephyr’s site, I still can’t say for sure whether or not they are solving an excessively hard problem like Jason describes. The Test Management System looks straightforward, but the Management Platform is pretty abstract and obtuse. I read the description and still had no idea who this would be useful to or why. Sticking with the test system, I think I can do a better job summarizing what they do…
Zephyr provides a software-based collaboration platform tailored specifically to software testing groups. It coordinates wide testing teams with test schedules, and can track and report on the results of each test. Zephyr also provides tools to automate tests, and integrates with bug tracking software like Bugzilla. The software is available for download or as a hosted service.

A tight summary like that does more than clearly convey your businesses purpose to others. By going through the effort of putting a statement like that together, it also ensures that you have that clear image in your head I described earlier. If you don’t have that crystal clear image, put your business down and go define it. How can you know you’re going in the right direction if you don’t determine what that direction actually is?