Forget Your Big Idea. Be Simple.

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be is a site based solely off user-generated content (i.e.,  content they didn’t create) and has achieved 1 Billion pageviews in its two years of existence. The book based off the concept was an instant New York Times bestseller and the second in the series is due out soon.

Oh, and if you’ve never seen it, is a site dedicated to displaying silly cat pictures that users can adorn with even sillier nonsensical captions. Yes, that was someone’s  BIG dollar idea.

Ben Huh, the guy behind the site, spoke at Search Marketing Expo yesterday and shared with the audience the two reasons why the site is a success.

  1. It’s simple.
  2. It makes people happy.

It’s genius.

I think a lot of small business owners forget to be simple. They think that in order to compete with the guy down the street that they have to be bigger and more impressive. That to be taken as seriously as the Best Buys or the Staples they need to offer a full line of products and amaze people with their sheer size. Somehow in the business world we’ve decided that size = credibility and authority. But that’s not true.

Your idea doesn’t have to be big. It has to be simple.

During yesterday’s keynote at SMX, Ben noted some other companies that have leveraged this idea of “simplicity”:

  • Starbucks is the simple place between your home and your office.
  • Google gave us a simple way to find information.
  • Facebook make it simple to connect with our friends online.
  • The Cheezburger network (which is part of) made it simple for people to be happy for a few moments of the day.

That’s what people are looking for. The Internet gave us the ability to reach millions in one shot. It changed the way a lot of businesses operated. It dared them to come up with the biggest idea they could and then market it to everyone. That’s rarely where success is found.

Instead, find the simplest idea you can and then market it only to those people who would be interested in the service. That’s how you find a loyal community, one that will grow and become viral. It’s also how you put yourself in the position to be able to make complicated products down the road. Ben asserted in his keynote that the reason Google can stick its hand into everything and release a slew of different products today is because, for awhile, they only did one thing well. They did search. That bought them the freedom to be where they are now.

You’re not Google and you don’t have to be. Instead of trying to do more than your competitors, figure out how to simplify what their throwing extra steps into. There are a million free services out there – Google Apps, WordPress, Skype, YouTube – that have made it easier to be “simple” without a lot of overhead. Take advantage and make it simple for people to find happiness. That’s what they want. And that’s what they want you to give them.

If you want to be better than your competitors. Don’t figure out how you can one up them and add extra features to their services. Instead, strip them down. Make them easier. That’s what we’re all looking for. A way to make it easier. Whatever that “it” happens to be.

Editor’s correction note:  actually it wasn’t $1 Billion in revenue as originally noted, but 1 Billion pageviews and a multi-million dollar business, and the post has been updated accordingly.   Still – EXTREMELY impressive for such a simple idea.

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Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

21 Reactions
  1. Lisa
    I love your posts! They make me think and re-think. And then at some point, I realize, I should start thinking and just keep it simple! Thanks for contributing your ideas and enthusiasm. I learn something cool from each of your posts and I know I’ve said that before. Maybe I’ll just start writing “Ditto” in my comments to keep it quick and to the point.

  2. The Barking Unicorn

    What people buy most is honest and true: coffee, bacon, cheeseburgers. Here are four rules by which I evaluate anything I consider buying or selling; they have never failed me:

    1. Every honest, true thing is *simple*.

    2. Every *apparently* simple thing is not honest or true, necessarily. (“You don’t have to sell it, just share the opportunity…”)

    3. The more complex a thing is made, the less likely it is to remain honest or true. See anyone’s Terms Of Service.

    4. If you cannot plainly see the simple, honest truth in a thing, forego it.

    And here are a couple of things specific to the Web that I’ve learned while watching online things come and go and (rarely) stay since 1988:

    – Any Web-based venture that requires external financing is probably not going to work.

    – Any Internet-dependent business plan that cannot be fully explained in one Tweet is most likely doomed.

  3. Working at my father’s greenhouse growing up I often saw customers overwhelmed by the numerous colors and varieties of flowers we offered. They didn’t even know where to begin. The most effective selling strategy was to ask them where they were going to put the flowers (this helps with sun and water requirements) and what colors they would like. From there I could suggest 2 or 3 options that were easily compared and rated.

    If you can simplify a complex process and make it quick to digest and decide, you’ll create loyal customers that love you to death.

  4. While the general premise of your post is great, there’s a huge challenge to the idea of being simple. Simple often equals ‘low barrier to entry’. If it’s simple, anyone can imitate you and lots of people will. I think that the true genius is to be simple, in a unique way. That takes a lot more work!

  5. So true. So true. The K.I.S.S. motto will never go out of style.

  6. Good reminder. Sometimes simple ideas present themselves, you just have to notice it. We get too involved into forcing ideas that become too complicated.

  7. Lisa: You are a great “” advocate! 🙂 I am fascinated by the Third Place concept, so I have been following Starbucks success with creating an area between home and office.

    “Starbucks is the simple place between your home and your office.”

    As a cat person, I am doing some catblogging now and then. Morris the cat is not talking LOLZ “cat speak” yet… He has his own mjau (meow in Swedish) language. If you a “curios cat”, please read my post, Plasticized Cat! 🙂

    I agree with TJ’s comment on the ditto thing! 😉

  8. Where did the ichc rev $1B number come from? “Reported”?

    It’s reported in other places ( as only $6k per month.

  9. Your advice re: keeping it simply and making other people happy universally applicable for all businesses. As an attorney, I sell legal services to businesses. It is very difficult to sell my services using your advice. Every legal issue is different. In addition, people are not usually happy when they have to hire a lawyer. What are your suggestions?

  10. Hi Lisa,

    Curious about that $1 Billion number. I wonder how they are computing that number? Did they say?


  11. So, basically create a niche product and market to said niche? Not exactly a breakthrough idea.

  12. Anita: I just pinged Ben to try and get some clarification. I’ll update should I get something. The number was taken from liveblogging coverage so it’s possible there was some context missing.

    Appreciate you bringing it up.

  13. I love the site, but the $1 billion story is unfortunately completely wrong. The live blogs were referring to a billion pageviews. Which is unfortunately not the same as dollars… 🙂

    Icanhascheezburger says they get about 50 million page views a month. Assuming a $5 CPM (it’s probably lower), that kind of traffic would generate around $250k in monthly ad sales. A very nice business to be sure, but far from a billion dollar opportunity.

  14. Keeping it simple is the result of clearing understanding the problem you want to solve.

    Entrepreneurs often lose focus when they try to get “more” sales instead of creating sales velocity as I discuss in my post .

    It’s not about more; it’s about acceleration with direction that creates momentum.

    Mark Allen Roberts

  15. ))))))))))

  16. simple is always the best but the most comprehensive solution should also be simple and have value.

  17. Well I am really getting obsessed with your postings. How true people like it simple and easy because when you keep it simple you connect well with your audience, you do it fast and this is the way world likes it