Entrepreneurs: Don’t Fall for the Shiny Object Syndrome

Posted on December 20, 2018

Entrepreneurs tend to be a very innovative group, always searching for and trying their hand at what’s considered to be on the cutting edge of business. This forward-thinking and testing has long been at the core of what entrepreneurship is all about. And there’s no mistaking it plays a significant role in separating the best from the rest.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t potential pitfalls to the willingness for action often exhibited by entrepreneurs. It’s important to remember you can be fearless and creative while still exercising the proper caution necessary to make sure you’re making an informed business decision. Otherwise, you’re probably just chasing the next opportunity that appears to be something special on the surface while forgetting first appearances can be misleading.

This is where shiny object syndrome enters the equation for entrepreneurs. It’s a counterproductive habit of continually chasing the next sparkling strategy or opportunity, and it’s a very easy way to lose sight of what’s best for your business longterm. Shiny object syndrome can be especially difficult to avoid in the world of e-commerce, where things are changing at breakneck speed and entrepreneurs are rapidly trying to keep up.

Avoiding this trap may not necessarily be essential to survive, but it most certainly is vital in order to thrive. In some cases, it’s about putting the purchase of that Lambo on hold so you can potentially buy 10 of them in a decade. In other cases, it’s about staying true to who you are and what your brand represents.

At Engine, we recently discussed the shiny object syndrome with Returnity CEO Mike Newman. He has worked in supply chain and sustainability for more than two decades. He was previously the vice president of sales and marketing at ReCellular and is now guiding Returnity in the quest to limit single-use packaging in e-commerce. Mike shared some exceptional first-hand experience around how difficult it can be to slow down and avoid rash decisions. Here’s what he had to say about battling the shiny object syndrome:

Mike Newman, Returnity CEO

One of the things I’ve learned the hard way is the shiny object syndrome. What I mean by that is, particularly in the early days when it’s all new and exciting, your whiteboard can have a million different applications, ideas, and services and you get excited about all of them. And maybe a customer tells you that seems really interesting or maybe you read a new study behind it. Then it just becomes so easy to try and pursue everything.

Inevitably, what you’ll do is a lot of things not that well and nothing great. It can also be compounded by this idea in the early days that the more bets you place, the more likely one of them is going to hit and be successful. So you’ll say let’s not just address a few markets, let’s address 20 markets because hopefully one of them works out. And again, inevitably, none of them work out because you haven’t serviced any of them well.

You’ve got to draw a line in the sand on who you’re going to go after and that’s who we’re going to service. We’re going to live or die based on how we do at that project and maybe at the end of the day, we’ll be wrong because you’re going to be wrong a lot. So we may have placed the wrong bet but at least we’ll have given it the right resources and attention to make it successful. That’s the thing that we’re always struggling with.

In the last year, we had a founder in one of the top five meal-kit companies come to us and say, “Everyone hates our packaging, we need something.” We all got excited about that because it’s a top five meal-kit company that’s growing like crazy. The challenge for us was really looking at it and being honest with ourselves about if that was the best path for us today or not. Saying no to a company like that, a company that’s raised tens of millions of dollars and is a really big and prominent brand, was a real look-in-the-mirror moment. It was about having the confidence to stick with the thing that we started with instead of chasing this new path. At the end of the day, we’re just not chasing that path right now. Maybe that door will be open for us again in the future, but having that confidence to stay with your convictions and the path you laid out can be really tough in those moments. I’m still hoping we made the right decision. I hope we did, and we’ll find out.