Joshua Dziabiak | Crain's

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

Joshua Dziabiak

Background:  

The Zebra is an Austin-based auto insurance search engine. The company, founded in 2012, offers a real-time quote comparison tool so that drivers can identify insurance companies with the coverage, service level, and pricing to suit their needs. The Zebra compares more than 200 car insurance companies and provides agent support and educational resources to its customers. 

The Mistake:

We didn't have enough early focus.

While working at my previous company in 2006, as we began to develop the product we lacked product focus. We founded the company and went to work trying to build as many features as we could. We tried to be everything to everyone.

The philosophy was very much “If you build it, they will come. If you build a superior product, then you’ll automatically win.” I quickly learned that’s not how it works.

This case of “feature creep” started to overwhelm the team and deter us from that critical main focus. It slows companies down and spoils their creativity. You end up trying to boil the ocean all at once rather than just focus on one thing and becoming real good at it.

We started to have an identity crisis. In today’s world, to really stand out you have to be known for one specific thing, your value proposition. It’s critical to become the best at that, punch through the pack and rise above the crowd.

In today’s world, to really stand out you have to be known for one specific thing, your value proposition.

The Lesson:

What we decided was that instead of trying to do a lot at once, we started to discover the things we were really good at. We looked at our customer base that we were serving exceptionally well and found commonalities between them.

We decided we were going to be a middle market player and identified a highly specific target audience. We tried to avoid being super broad.

We created messaging and sales material around this new vision, and realigned our entire organization to be completely centered around this more specific customer. We became hyper focused on that market, and it helped us in every way.

It was easier to identify what opportunities we should take, and ultimately we were able to build a suite of products that served a specific customer base and become a leader in that space.

Now, at The Zebra, I knew early on that we had to have that hyper focus. We knew from the start we wanted to offer homeowner’s insurance comparisons, in addition to our hero product of auto insurance comparison. But with this lesson in mind, I was adamant that we focus on auto first – it was certainly a big enough market at $200 billion.

We focused everything on becoming the leader in auto insurance comparison. Now, five years later, we are. Now we’re in a much better situation to begin to branch out into that new offering.

 

Follow The Zebra on Twitter at @TheZebraCo.

Pictured is Joshua Dziabiak. | Photo courtesy of The Zebra.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email jscheibel@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Austin.