Anyone who has built an app knows to simplify is a tough process. The most popular apps are easy to use, but creating them involves hard work and consistent iteration. Building a business that provides app creation as a service… even harder.

When we started Polar Notion in 2012, I didn’t have a clue.

A proven path to growth for a software consultancy involves fewer, larger clients with longer projects. These companies recruit experienced team members and pursue seasoned clients. The businesses that thrive understand this, accept it, and lean in.

I fought it at every turn.

  • Instead of corporations, I focused on startups and small business owners.
  • Instead of experience, I was eager to find young, early-stage team members to train.
  • Instead of longer projects, we focused on short bursts with quick turnarounds.
  • Fast, cheap, and good. Picking two is manageable. I wanted to provide all three.

It was fulfilling, no doubt. In isolation, any one of them is worth being proud.

The catch was trying them all at once. At no point were we making things easier or simpler. The resulting complexity was crippling.

Complexity kills. It creates friction. The friction impedes progress, ideas, communication, and businesses. Succeeding in business is hard enough without unnecessary complexity.


I’ve worked with dozens of founders and they face similar struggles. Conversations go something like this…

Me – “What are you working on?”
Them – “Well, it’s like Shopify meets Airbnb, and Eventbrite.”
Me – “Ah. Which are you starting with?”
Them – “It only makes sense if we do them all at once.”
Me – “…”
Them – “Oh yeah, and we want to increase the average wage of our vendors. Then, give a percentage of profit to these three causes.”

Cool! A combination of three, multi-billion dollar businesses. Each took decades to build and raised hundreds of millions of dollars.

E-commerce + Marketplace + Event & Ticketing + Geolocation + Web App + Mobile App + Philanthropy = Super Complicated!

It’s a lot. A lot of complexity. A lot of time. A lot of cost. A lot of all.the.things… typically without any traction.

Instead, our goal should be to reduce risk, validate assumptions, and deepen our understanding of our customer. This can be done without much money but requires vulnerability and patience.

If someone isn’t advocating for simplicity, no one will.

Helpful Exercises

Combating complexity requires constant pruning. An exercise we perform regularly is “Stop. Start. Continue.” The goal is to cut the excess and create capacity to do more of what’s working.

  • What are we doing that isn’t valuable enough and we should stop?
  • What could provide more value that should start?
  • What are we doing that is working best and we should continue?

The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) is another popular concept. In short, 80% of the value comes from only 20% of effort.

What’s the most impactful 20% of your work?

PS. Here are great books and resources on the topic of doing more of what matters and less of what does not. Checkout my summaries from previous years: 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Morgan J Lopes

Acknowledgements and gratitude for these learnings. A special thanks to…

  • Russell, Rhoades, and Brett, for showing me what it takes to build great software consultancies, and for accepting me when I chose to pursue a different path.
  • CBQ, for making it look easy enough to consider trying and being transparent enough to see it’s actually really freaking hard.
  • Benj, for reminding me that some things are just hard and we can choose whether or not to continue.
  • Code School students I’ve hired and trained, don’t confuse my reflections for regret. I’d do it all again.
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