Create a Business With Fewer Moving Parts

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Looking to start your own business? You’re not alone. Every month, more than 500,000 people in the US alone ditch their day job, hire an office, collect VC money and start working their asses off hoping they’ll create the next Apple or Facebook. And while their mission is often more noble, there’s a 90% chance that what they’ve started will miserably fail.1

These days, it seems like everybody wants to start their own business. People with different backgrounds want to escape their boring 9 to 5 job and join the laptop lifestyle movement invented by a special breed of people who are, seemingly, enjoying life at fullest.

And even though starting a business in the 21st century is child-like easy – I mean, even your mom can start a blog and make it big – the odds are not in your favor. Despite your efforts, the amount of cash you put upfront and your enormous enthusiasm, nine out of ten new businesses crumble.

The reasons?

There are plenty. But the most common causes for premature exit from the startup world are the following: No market need (42%); Ran out of cash (29%); Not the right team (23%).2

And while all these things might seem different, there’s one thing in common: complexity.

When people start dreaming about conquering the world with their new fancy product, app, modern website, they tend to overcomplicate stuff.

They add a co-founder because they’ve read somewhere online that “startups with co-founders have a higher success rate than companies with a single founder.” They ask VCs and angel investors for money because they believe that’s the only wat they can accomplish big things. They worry about their equipment and social media pages more than their actual product.

Instead of narrowing their perspective so they can focus on the essentials, they broaden it and they continuously add new elements to the equation.

The outcome?

A complex vehicle that burns money faster than an old school sports car burns fuel.

But there’s something you can do to increase your success ratio. Something really simple, yet, often overlooked. You can create a business with fewer moving parts.

The Concept of Business With Fewer Moving Parts

The idea of creating a business with fewer moving parts came to my mind after reading The Great Mental Models by Shane Parrish. One of the mental models mentioned in the book is called Occam’s Razor. The essence of this problem-solving mechanism is that simpler explanations are more likely to be true than complicated ones.

Or in other words, when you have fewer things on your plate, you can move quickly and make decisions faster simply because your mind won’t be overloaded with ideas and complex scenarios.

The same logic can be applied in business.

When you have fewer moving parts – fewer products, staff members, partners, etc. – you’ll make decisions faster, you’ll be more efficient, you’ll have more free time, you’ll have more money, and you will have fewer things to argue about with your co-founder – if you even have a co-founder.

Why Having Fewer Moving Parts Is Important?

Do you know why old cars are more durable?

One word: simplicity.

Old cars are composed of fewer parts. They don’t have seat heating, navigation, Parktronic, 736 buttons and switches to perfectly adjust your seat to your behinds.

And although your booty might not feel 100% comfortable in an oldsmobile, the fewer electronics in the car will surely lead to less trips to the local car mechanic.

Fewer parts mean fewer things that can go wrong. Also, less time spent maintaining the vehicle.

But it’s not only the complexity of the machines we daily use. There are many disadvantages to having a lot of moving parts in everything you do:

  • Drawing: If you start painting using pencils, brushes, 100+ colors to choose from, it will take you a lot of time to create a drawing. First, you’ll spend a lot of time planning – deciding which exact colors to use. Secondly, you’ll start experimenting with the brushes and the different styles. Undoubtedly, this will consume a lot of your time.
  • Clothing: You love to dress in the latest fashion trends? I bet preparing for work looks like a massacre – clothes scattered throughout the whole apartment.
  • Business: If you have a website, a podcast, an online store, and also a couple of social media channels to update, you’ll spend an enormous amount of time maintaining these channels. This will leave you little room for producing new original content and pursuing your main goal – actually making a profit.

The more things we have to consider, the more time we’ll spend evaluating the options. More time wasted means more money lost.

Or in other words, the more parts there are in something, the less efficient this thing is.

The more parts there are in something the less efficient this tool (idea, business) is.

When you apply the fewer moving parts principle in your daily life and business, things will look quite differently:

  • Drawing: You’ll be way more productive and creatively inspired if you create drawings using only black and white colors, for example. The burden of choosing colors and techniques will be lifted.
  • Clothing: You’ll prepare for work faster when you have fewer clothes to choose from.
  • Business: Focusing only on blogging, or only on podcasting, will help you produce better content, faster.

How Having Fewer Moving Parts In Business Actually Helps?

Let’s imagine that you’ll open your own restaurant.

From a very young age, you’ve been sitting behind a hob, preparing dishes with your parents and later with your spouse. After working several years in a big corporation, you finally decide to take the leap of faith and go entrepreneurial.

You’re going to open your own small restaurant.

And while serving food might seem simple from the person ordering, there’s a lot of things happening behind the scenes.

Restaurants, by default, are complicated organizations. There are a lot of things to consider. From the location, the number of staff, the size of the menu, to whether or not to offer takeaway.

Of course, like every young aspiring entrepreneur, you want to strike it big. To go all the way, and do whatever you are doing to its fullest. As modern gurus online say, “Go big or go home.”

You rent the biggest available space nearby, you hire 20+ people, you prepare a long complicated menu which also includes traditional Amish food because you don’t want to disappoint anyone.

The result?

Cash burned faster than fuel when a rocket launches.

But money evaporating at the speed of light is just part of the problem. You’re working non-stop trying to make things work. You’re handling take-aways, covering shifts, hiring people, firing peopleā€¦ Eventually, quitting and going back to your boring, mentally impaired corporate job is your new mission.

But things could have been better. Instead of trying to be the biggest, baddest restaurant in the hood, you could have done things slightly differently.

Let’s start again with the fewer moving parts concept as a guiding force:

  • Instead of renting the biggest place, you can rent a smaller venue that’s cheaper.
  • Instead of hiring 20+ people, you can get only a few people working in the kitchen and start as a self-serving restaurant.
  • Instead of creating a menu with dozens of dishes, you can start with fewer than 10 positions in your menu and expand later if needed.

But you can go even further.

You can start without even opening a “real” restaurant. You can open a ghost restaurant and serve customers exclusively through phone and online orders.3

Even if a delivery-only restaurant is not your thing, it’s still best to consider starting small.

Smaller space will mean less money spent on furniture. Fewer people will mean less time training them and handling emotional breakdowns when things get busy. A shorter menu will mean that you will have constantly fresh ingredients which will mean that you’ll serve better food.

Or in other words, fewer things to handle is not only the right thing to do financially; It’s also something that will help you keep your sanity and give you the so needed time to innovate and move forward.

How to Apply The Fewer Moving Parts Principle In Business?

Both people who are starting new businesses and such who already have established companies can benefit from this concept.

Obviously, it will be way easier for folks who are preparing to launch simply because they’ll start with this in mind. Still, you can apply this principle even if you have a company that’s been on the market for years by removing the excess parts that are only slowing you down.

So, let’s see what we can do to trim down parts in our business that are only wasting our time and money:

  • The basics: Can you have a hot dog stand without a hot dog? I don’t think so. The first thing you need to do is to identify the basic things you need to have an operating business. The things you simply can’t go without. If you have a restaurant, obviously, food will be one of the basics. But don’t stop at food. You need to go deeper. What type of food? And more specifically, what’s the key ingredient you can’t go without? Which part of your equation can’t be removed?
  • The process: Once you know what’s your baseline, write down the whole process. Document everything from creating the product to shipping to the customer. If you have a hot dog stand, you’ll write things like: ordering hot dogs and accompanying goods (topping, sauce, napkins), storing them in a fridge, making preparations for the specific day, preparing the hot dog… You can even make it visual to understand it better by using methods like mind mapping.
  • The secondaries: Once you have the whole process in front of you, take some time to decide what extra stuff you need to deliver the best product. In our hot dog stand example, we’ll need a stand, we’ll have to pick a location, get a fridge, get the needed tools to cook the hot dog, napkins and other small things. Here you’ll need to add all the little details that are essential for delivering a finished product. Still, think only about things you absolutely need.
  • The extras: At this point, you can ask yourself: What else would people want when buying my main product? Selling sodas is surely something a person would want if we have our own hot dog stand. Keep in mind that the extra things you are going to offer should make sense and complement the core product.
  • The growth: Once you have an established system, it’s time to think about possible growth. If you’re not making enough money, or if you’re running a side hustle, it’s time to think about strategies that will help you expand and finally quit your day job. Often times we, alone, are not enough to make things big enough in order for our venture to become our primary income stream. At this moment, you can hire an extra person. Or, invest money in some sort of application that will automate a large portion of the process.

Deviation: Although it’s generally best to have fewer things in your business, or in the product you’re creating, there are companies and tools that simply need a lot of parts to actually work. Don’t be afraid to hire more people or to add an extra element to your tool if this additional thing will make the finished product cooler. Do your best to trim down the excess but make sure all essential parts are present.

Some Closing Thoughts

Running a business, by default, is a complex process. There are plenty of things to consider no matter what you’re selling and what’s your niche market.

Don’t make things worse by adding extra elements that don’t add any real value to the finished product.

If you keep things simple, you’ll have more free time, less to worry about and there will be fewer things that can go wrong. On top of that, you’ll be way more efficient and move faster than your competitors.

Anybody can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.” Charles Mingus


Footnotes:

  1. According to the Kauffman Index Startup Activity Report from 2017, the rate of new entrepreneurs is steadily growing but the chances of failure is not.
  2. Data from The Top 20 Reasons Startups Fail.
  3. Ghost restaurants are really trendy these days. You focus solely on marketing and you act as a delivery-only restaurant.