What Is It You Do? The Need For Simplicity

Warren Buffett is famous for telling people they should only invest in businesses they understand. A corollary to that is that a company should be able to describe in simple terms what they do. Even if what they do is really technical and complicated.

Why? First so employees and investors can get on board and help the company get where it wants to go. But it’s just as important that your potential customers know what you can do for them. And just because you offer a product to businesses or developers instead of everyday consumers doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep things simple.

We see startups all the time that we don’t understand. I used to think I was just in over my head. But over the years I’ve met CEOs who can explain the most complicated technology in relatively simple terms via analogies or use cases. Those that can’t aren’t doing their job.

Not to pick on SimpleGeo, but I will. A developer I know emailed me this Quora conversation this evening where another developer was asking what the heck SimpleGEO does:

In simple terms, what can I do with SimpleGeo? “An infrastructure for all location data” seems so vague. As a developer, exactly what can I do with it?

SimpleGeo CEO Matt Galligan responds:

Here’s the simplest that I can get it: Our new API docs.


Fact is, there’s a lot that we do, and a good amount of it is behind the scenes. But our new API docs should provide a quick understanding of our current capabilities. Though there’s a lot more on the way.

Go ahead and click on that link, read a few things and then come back here and tell me if you know what SimpleGeo does. Here’s what that other developer said to us in the email:

they’re an impressive team and i’m sure it’ll be interesting to see what they do. while i didn’t ask this question i’ve often wondered WTF simplegeo offers. i took a look at their initial APIs and while i’m very comfortable with geo i couldn’t figure out how they were useful. these new ones are def more interesting.

in any event, you’d think a co-founder could rattle off a few simple use cases vs pointing someone at developer docs. it often feels like there’s too much of this highfalutin talk in the valley.

I totally agree. We’ve covered SimpleGeo enough to have a good understanding of what they offer, but if actual developers are out there scratching their heads, there’s clearly a problem.

“This Fall, we’re launching kick-ass tools for developers to index, interpret, and consume data connected to a location” says the company on its home page. How much better would that be if there were a few use cases or examples of exactly what a developer could do with these tools?

This isn’t really about SimpleGeo though. It’s a problem that pervades Silicon Valley. Sometimes people think that a simple description of a product means there isn’t much there. But really it’s the opposite. You have to be able to distill down what you do in a way that your customers can easily understand the value proposition. It’s hard, but it’s also a business necessity.

So whether you’re SimpleGeo or Yahoo, figure it out. And tell the world.