“The Complexity of Simple Things”

A piece by The Pigeonhole Founder Jacob Cockcroft for the Bristol University TEDx Conference.



“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A start up is essentially a distillation process inside an hourglass. Will you extract the essential product before time runs out?

The wonderful thing about starting a new enterprise is the limitless possibilities of your ideas, of what you can build, of what problems you can solve. Your universe is constrained by nothing more then your imagination. But this same potential, is also your biggest weakness. You cannot sit on the fence forever and nor can you be all things to all men, you must work out the one simple thing you can do, and do it beautifully.

This has been the biggest challenge for The Pigeonhole. From the onset people loved the concept of our business: “disrupting publishing with a dash of Dickens”; bringing back serialization; providing a platform for new voices; facilitating a conversation across the pages of a book; using data to drive content creation; offering a fairer deal to writers. We were all things to all men, and had the press coverage to prove it. But at the same time, when you stripped it all back, we didn’t really know what we were – and what this really means is – we needed to figure out what product people actually wanted The Pigeonhole to be.

This is the universal question all start ups must answer. And, of course, different people will want you to be different things, so you have to start making decisions, alienating some in the process, but starting your distillation process. We are still distilling 18 months since we launched our first product and the sand in the hourglass continues to flow all around us.

For us, our primary simplification has been to understand we are a unique delivery platform for content creators, that we are a partner, not a lone ranger. We are there to enable dynamic digital conversations across the pages of books. We are an enabler that has the potential to transform how people can interact through books, how school classes can read text books or set texts, or how conference goers can interact with the material on offer. Whether we will become just one of these, time will tell.

Paola Palencia, our Berlin-based designer, once sent me the quote at the top of this article and said to me: this is our mantra. This will be when we have made it, when there is nothing left to take away.

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