Ben Ow | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ben Ow

Background:  

StoAmigo is a digital cloud company that allows users to access, manage, and transfer all of their digital content on each of their devices from one secure platform.

The Mistake:

Not simplifying a good idea.

As someone who likes to invent things, I'll always have a cool idea and say, "What about this? Let's do this, let's add that," and then add more and more to the idea thinking that if one thing doesn't appeal to a demographic group then another thing will. But that's not always true.

We started StoAmigo at a time when Facebook was just starting. There was no Dropbox yet. We were getting into cloud storage back in 2004. In 2006, we were at the Consumer Electronics Show show and honored in the top 10 "Best of Show" and I thought, "Oh that's good, we're all set now. We're going to go places."

But our platform was too early because at that time Facebook wasn't even mainstream yet. It was just on campus. The world didn't have Dropbox yet. Google Calendar had just started around that time, too. Everyone was still using POPmail.

So we were too early at that time with that concept. Our platform is really big: It has online storage, streaming media, email, voicemail, an online calendar, an online address book, and a social media component. It was too much at that time. In the end, while we had best in show at CES and good write-ups about our platform, it did not catch on as we hoped.

Looking back, I think, if only I would have pulled one item out, like the online storage or even the social media component, we could be someone else right now. Because we were earlier than Dropbox in online storage. That started in 2007 and we had this back in 2004. So if we had only focused on one thing we could have been Dropbox.

If a good idea cannot be simplified then it will not catch on.

The Lesson:

The key thing I learned is that while we always think the more the merrier and want to include all the different features so every potential user will find one feature useful, that's not the case. You have to make the idea as simple as possible, do one thing and one thing only, and that is where you get traction.

If you have a good idea, you need to learn how to simplify it so that there's only one thing for users to learn and nothing else. And that's pretty much true for every business. If you go to a restaurant and the menu is too complicated, like pages and pages, you get overwhelmed and don't know what to choose. But if the menu is simple with just a few items then it's easy to choose.

Success is not just about a good idea: it's about a good idea simplified. If a good idea cannot be simplified then it will not catch on. So the important thing is to figure out how to simplify a good idea, focus on it, and make it better.

Now we're incorporating blockchain technology into our platform so that users have control over all of their transactions to make sure all transactions are private and secure. We're pretty excited about it and now that I've learned from my mistake, I'm going to keep this one simple.

Follow StoAmigo on Twitter at @StoAmigo and Ben Ow at @benow2223.

Photo provided by StoAmigo