Why Every Business Needs A Duct Tape Entrepreneur

Whenever I think of duct tape, I think of my favorite television superhero MacGyver. What?!? There’s a ticking time bomb set to explode in 10 seconds? Take that stick of chewing gum, some duct tape and disarm that bad boy. It wasn’t always pretty, but MacGyver always got the job done no matter what the situation. He was never concerned with how elegant the solution was, he just did what was necessary to help his client.

If Macgyver was a real person, who wouldn’t want him on your team? The truth is that every small business needs a duct tape guy. Because the duct tape guy is the guy who will make sure you launch your business on time. He’s the one thinking about and developing concrete ways to market your business. He’s the one getting things done while others are endlessly debating over minor details that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

My Anti-Duct Tape Story

When my wife and I first started out with our business, I used to spend an endless amount of time tweaking the look of the website. I would resize a few photos here and there. I would change up the fonts. I’d tweak the column sizes. Before I knew it, a few hours would go by and I’d have very little work done to show for it.

Then there were the coding aspects of our shopping cart. Often times, I wanted new features that the out of the box software didn’t provide so I decided to implement them myself. And this opened up a whole new can of worms.

Should I use javascript or PHP? Man my code is ugly. Shouldn’t I clean this up a bit first before I move on? Ooooh!! If I’m clever, I can write this code in 2 lines and make it super elegant.

Yes. Early on, I was the antithesis of a duct tape entrepreneur. In fact, my wife had to remind me that we were launching an online store, not trying to win some website design contest. Fortunately, her words snapped me back to reality and I was finally able to make progress. Remember, we online entrepreneurs are not here to tweak websites or write elegant code. We’re here to launch and ship product.

Amdahl’s Law

Since I’m a microprocessor designer by day, one of the core principles of designing fast CPUs is defined by Amdahl’s law. For all of you who are not familiar with Amdahl’s law, it basically states that the performance improvement to be gained from using some faster mode of execution is limited by the fraction of the time the faster mode can be used.

Of course this law was made for CPUs but it also applies to starting a business. In a nutshell, it means that you should be spending your time on things that will yield the most benefit. But, you should only spend just enough time on fixing a problem until other more important issues become prominent and require your attention.

Here’s an example of this law in action with our online store. Back when I first started, the design of our website was one of the most important tasks at hand. But once I got the basic website up and running, all of my additional time spent tweaking the aesthetics had diminishing returns.

At this point, working on the look of the website became less important because the site was “good enough” for our initial launch. Looking back, I should have stopped working on the website much sooner and focused more on other pressing issues that required my attention. Recognizing that something is “good enough” is one of the hardest parts about becoming an entrepreneur.

More Duct Tape Please

Duct tape entrepreneurs also excel at recognizing that a partial solution is sometimes better than no solution at all. When we launch a business or feature, it doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect. It doesn’t have to implement 100% of the feature set. If something that we ship only benefits 50% of the people 50% of the time, it might still be worthwhile to just get it out there and refine it later.

A good example of this with our business was with the personalized section of our online store. When we first launched, we didn’t allow our customers that much freedom to customize or personalize our products at all. We basically just wanted to get the product category out there to see if there was demand.

Once we determined that the demand was high, we gradually added more and more functionality to our personalized product line to the point now where it’s one of our biggest money makers. The key point is to not get bogged down with the details. Get the thing out there, experiment and refine.

Complicated=Bad!

The final thing that duct entrepreneurs excel at is squashing everything that is remotely complicated. The truth is that the ideas that are the most effective happen to also be the simplest as well. Complicated ideas are confusing and prone to error so they should be avoided at all costs.

I see this everyday with user interface design. Don’t make a customer jump through hoops or waste their time looking at a splash page or flash animation just because it is cool. Make the customer experience as plain and simple as possible and you will sell more product.

Conclusion

If you don’t have a duct tape guy on your team or if you are a one man show, it means that you have to become the duct tape guy. Sometimes it requires a 180 degree shift in mentality or with the way you normally do things but it’s the most effective way to get things done.

Whenever you get bogged down with a problem or issue, ask yourself whether what you are doing is core to the business. I guarantee you that 9 times out of 10, it’s not as big of a deal as you think it is. If your product is in a good enough state, get out your duct tape, put the whole thing together and launch! You can always refine it later.

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18 thoughts on “Why Every Business Needs A Duct Tape Entrepreneur”

  1. “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” so sayeth Voltaire. Perfectionism can become just another source of procrastination if you’re not careful. In addition, sometimes a temporary solution actually is the best solution. Times change and tastes and fashions with them, so the temporary brings with it a flexibility. Being able to constantly adapt and adjust is the best way to keep thriving.

    1. @Tyler @evan
      I was just talking to my friend about this who runs a software group. Using “duct tape” is something that he’s specifically trying to avoid with his software. As with anything, there’s a fine line between getting things out the door and methodically planning everything. The best companies have both a visionary and guys who get things done.

  2. A great book about this kind of thing is The Innovator’s Solution. It emphasises having a good enough product to get the job done for one segment of the market. It was really helpful to me.

  3. What a great post! Very inspiring and a great reminder -to just get things done! I know I have far too many to- do lists sitting around and spend too much time re-writing them then just getting them done and throwing them out.

    It is very hard when starting something to figure out where and how to cut corners!
    And it is easy to get frustrated during that process! Your post is a great reminder that 1. you will learn what you need to and it will get better
    2. that it doesn’t need to be perfect to keep moving on and to attack the next thing!

    Thanks! -now to go finish the to do lists and throw them :) haha! your blog is excellent! thanks!

    1. @Sophia
      Thanks for the kind words. BTW, did your new cell phone ever arrive?

  4. ps. have you ever seen the pbs red and green show reruns? they are extraordinary for coming up with hilarious duct tape fixes. :)

  5. i love your post! duct-tape entrepreneur? totally creative. and it really does make sense. i mean, a lot of entrepreneurs are in the same boat most of the time. and your analogy just made it more simpler to understand. realizing that you need to put your time to more important business issues rather than spending it on stuff that can only tie you down is crucial for the success of your business or product. it’s just like triage. you know, the system they use in hospitals. anyway, amazing post again..looking forward for more!

    1. @stephanie
      The fact is that there are too many things going on at the same time to devote all of your time and energy into one given aspect. It’s better to get everything to an adequate condition and refine later. That is unless you have the luxury of having money to hire employees. Thanks for the kind words and hope to see you around!

  6. ‘ ..a partial solution is better than no solution at all’ – I laughed when I read that.. it is so true. However colleagues in the past have hung there head in frustration when I have done this… I guess I am the ‘duct tape guy’!

  7. “Simple” is the new “Fast.”

    Not only are simple things easier to build and deploy but it is an easier sell as well. People can rally behind simple concepts. If you are trying to do everything, customers will have a difficult time understanding what you do and an even more challenging time trying to explain it to others.

  8. Yes! I got the cell phone and it is AWESOME! Thank you SO VERY MUCH Steve!!

  9. I love that you focus on the basics and keeping things simple. You are right about letting things be “good enough.” Most entrepreneurs I know are kind of control freaks (this includes me too), so letting things be good enough is incredibly difficult but smart.

  10. ‘ ..a partial solution is better than no solution at all’ – I laughed when I read that.. it is so true. However colleagues in the past have hung there head in frustration when I have done this… I guess I am the ‘duct tape guy’!

    1. @Bruce
      Shipping out partial solutions is an argument I get into at work a lot. Guess it goes with the territory of being an engineer.

  11. fiona says:

    omg! perfect timing.. you are awesome! i am so drawn up on the little things, looks, feels, the best of the best doing all perfect before we start, for now, and next year and 5 years all set up on this perfect platform before we start!! perfect, pull back.. good enough, move on. thank you.

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