Monday May 11, 2015
I’m going to voice what might be an unpopular opinion. It seems to me that most startups are using too many tools to manage their business.
Every day, I see lists of “Top 10 Tools Startups Need to Survive,” “Top 50 Essential Tools for Startups,” and so on. I even saw a list of 300+ tools for startups. Is it just me, or has the idea of an “app ecosystem” gotten way out of hand? I don’t have time to read those lists, much less to research, learn, and evaluate 300 tools.
Yet, somehow startups continue to rely on increasingly complex tangles of single software solutions to solve their business problems. I call it the app ecosystem. Each problem has one distinct solution, which then has to be integrated with other tools. Currently, the most successful tools for startups are ones which integrate easily with other tools, making it easier to create an ecosystem.
To me, this still seems excessively complicated. Why aren’t there fewer tools that simply do more things? Forget the integration. One toolkit, one consistent user interface, and the ability to pick and choose tools based on your needs—it makes good sense.
Here’s my take on how an all-in-one solution helps startups be more scalable, more efficient, and more profitable.
Save Yourself Hours of Time
I’ll start with the point I mentioned earlier. It takes a ton of time to research, learn, implement, and integrate a new tool for each problem that crops up. I know you’re probably passionate about new tools, and it doesn’t seem like work to you. But if you added up all the time you spend trying to optimize your app ecosystem, it’s probably more than you would have budgeted. The fact is, there are more valuable ways you can spend your time.
Having one toolkit that covers a lot of your basic needs can cut out a lot of that time. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t invest in a few specific tools that solve problems that are more unique for your business, but for the basic problems of managing your team, planning and automating your marketing efforts, and managing customer relationships, a one-stop-shop is a lot more efficient.
Save Tons of Money Down the Line
This is pretty basic. It’s always easier to pay one bill instead of 10. Maybe you’re using freemium versions of all your tools now. But if you want to scale up, soon those tools are going to start costing you. Choosing one solution that checks a lot of boxes is a good way to control costs as your startup grows.
Make Onboarding Easier
How long does it take you to get a new team member fluent in navigating your app ecosystem?
Figuring out how all the puzzle pieces fit together can be a real challenge, especially for someone who didn’t help set the system up. It can take weeks before someone new is fully integrated.
The reason for this is simple: every tool has a different user interface. Learning one tool doesn’t help you learn the rest, and once you have learned each tool individually, you still may not understand how they integrate with each other.
If your core tools are all part of the same software, however, the interface stays consistent from tool to tool. Learning how the CRM tool works does help you learn how to use the timecard and ecommerce tools. It’s simply so much easier to learn an integrated toolkit than it is to learn an app ecosystem.
And if you’re hoping to scale up, the simplification of onboarding new employees needs to be a priority.
Solve Systemic Problems Instead of Patching
My biggest beef with the norm of having an app for each problem in a business isn’t just about saving time and money. It has to do with the mindset that naturally goes along with an app ecosystem.
I call it the patching mindset, also known as the "whack-a-mole mindset". Each time a problem comes up, you patch it with a new tool. As problems arise, you solve them.
It’s an addictive mindset. It feels good to solve problems. You feel busy, productive, and clever. But, for a business owner, being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re growing your business.
Problems rarely operate in isolation. Solving one problem has an annoying tendency to reveal another and another and another. If you just buy an app to solve each problem, you’re not accessing the deeper causes of the problems, which tend to be complex and systemic.
For systemic problems, you need a systemic solution.
This is where an all-in-one solution really shines. It forces you to tackle the basic problems of organization and communication in your business and recognizes that most problems stem from those two sources.
You’ll save time and money, but you’ll get something much more valuable. You’ll get ahead of the problems in your business, rather than constantly playing catch up. App ecosystems are a risky way to run a business, and they can slow down your growth for years to come, without ever even realizing it.
Is an all-in-one solution appealing to you? What are your concerns? Let me know in the comments!