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In a year dominated by Covid-19, stay-at-home orders fuelled worldwide demand for an unexpected item: jigsaw puzzles. The interlocking tiles were a hot commodity throughout 2020, as people of all ages sought engaging ways to pass the time.
“There’s a global shortage of puzzles..,” Brian Way, co-owner of Puzzle Warehouse told NPR in November. “There’s not a factory on the planet that is not months behind on production.”
Game manufacturer Ravensburger told CNBC that its U.S. puzzle sales were up 370% in early April, and the company expected to sell, on average, 20 puzzles per minute in North America through the end of the year. That’s over 10.5 million puzzles in one region alone.
The resurgence of this analog activity makes sense, especially during a global pandemic. My father and I love doing puzzles with my two young sons. Puzzles cross generations, and they’re both relaxing and absorbing.
Building and growing a business is also a puzzle. Only, startups don’t have pre-set corners. You can’t spot the 90-degree pieces to connect the frame; you have to build these corners for yourself. The good news? Every new product, feature or release locks in another piece, and over time, a clear image begins to emerge. That’s just one reason why entrepreneurship is so rewarding.
After 15 years in business, JotForm has well-defined edges and much of the puzzle has taken shape. However, we’re still building it out. That process never ends — and even if we did fill in all the pieces, we’d simply expand the puzzle.
Whether you’re just starting or you’ve been working on your company for years, here are my tips for staying focused on the big picture.
Build from the center
At every stage of a business, it’s easy to lose track of your core mission. The early days are wildly distracting because you have seemingly endless details to juggle. As your venture becomes more established, it’s tempting to seek greener pastures. Maybe you’ve achieved your original vision, or you’re bored with the day-to-day work of running the company.
Instead of shifting focus, zoom in and reinforce what matters most to your customers. What is the essential fabric of your product or service? For us, it’s the Form Builder. Almost all of our 15,000 new daily signups lead to the builder. That’s our core, so it deserves continual improvement, and there are three key ways to strengthen the center of your puzzle.
1. Improve the design
Legendary designer and architect Charles Eames once said, “the role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guest.” Beyond colors, graphics, photos or illustrations, the design is a massive differentiator. It enhances brand recognition, evokes emotion, and as Eames said so eloquently, the good design ensures a better experience for everyone you serve.
2. Enhance the usability
Time has always been our most precious commodity, but the competing demands of modern life heighten its value. Anything you can do to make your offering faster, easier, less complicated, and more intuitive is time well spent. If your company is young and you can’t hire dedicated UI and UX staff, try working with a consultant — even on a limited basis. Usability is essential, because customers will quickly turn elsewhere if your product is even slightly complicated or frustrating.
3. Evolve the core offering
It’s both good news and bad that your product is never “done.” The puzzle is always incomplete, because new technologies, customer needs, social and cultural shifts, and economic realities are always emerging. Constant innovation is essential for survival. However, remember that evolution can take many different forms. Your job is to find the best version for your company, whether that means exploring AI or stripping a core process down to the absolute basics.
Establish meaningful metrics
A successful jigsaw puzzle is a complete image. Success in business, however, is far more subjective. We all know founders who are obsessed with vanity metrics, and while it’s critical to track your data, sometimes success is an action or a change. For example, we measure how many new users actually build a form. Did they use our product to successfully create and release a form? And did they receive submissions on that form? That’s what matters to our customers – not bounce rates or acquisition costs. Of course, companies need to monitor a wide range of internal data, but don’t prioritize flashy growth statistics or KPIs over more meaningful numbers.
Relish the empty space
Unlike a puzzle, your goal is not to complete all the pieces of your business. As we noted above, not only is the finish line imaginary, but creating something from nothing is what makes most founders feel alive. There’s no need to rush it.
Empty spaces are also a chance to listen closely to your customers. Find different ways to learn what they want and need — and how those needs change over time. Open space is an opportunity; seize it and keep building. We all love puzzles, and there’s no better feeling than locking in a new piece and watching your company grow.