Vance Cook | Crain's Utah

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Vance Cook

Background:, based in downtown Salt Lake City, is an app and web app that lets people find, track and share adventures all over the United States — like the outdoor equivalent of Google Maps. It’s for people who are outdoors people, hikers, bikers, backpackers, skiers, runners. Cooke is the president of the privately held company, invented the idea, pulled together and led and directed the team. This is the third incarnation of his company.

The Mistake:

We allowed ourselves to be distracted not by something “bright and shiny," but by something smaller and less important than the key feature of our business.

When we were a young company, we were developing our core product that was to be the future of the company. But we came up an idea of a smaller, ancillary product. We decided that we were going to finish that piece of it, take it to market, and it was going to be good practice for us, and it was going to be a good experience, we would learn from it and it would help us later with our larger, more important product.

What we found was it became a huge distraction to us, and it sucked in a lot more time and resources and effort, than we ever believed it would, or ever intended it would, and it ended up derailing the company for a couple of years.

You must, as a business, define your core product or service, and put hyper-focus on that core product or service.

The Lesson:

You must, as a business, define your core product or service, and put hyper-focus on that core product or service, and keep the entire company moving in that direction. Sometimes we think that little things will be fun, they will be helpful, but we don’t measure out all of the distraction factors associated with having a couple of different products and a couple of different directions. Even though they may seem small, they can pull you off course in much larger ways than you anticipate.

What we have learned to do is to define that product or service and only move towards that product. And use hyper-focus and keep us in that direction and not allow us to be distracted.

To take that a little further – in our case it was a software product, but it could apply to other products or services as well – we learned to develop that in the narrowest, smallest version that is viable. And a lot of features that we might like, we learned to build the essential elements to the product, get it to market, and add those pieces later if we have time and the product shows itself to be viable.

It’s not a matter of just defining the core product, and not get distracted by different products, it’s to narrow the scope of that product or service as much as possible, so it’s still viable, and get that core piece out.

So many companies spin their wheels and churn, because they see some other thing: ‘This’ll be cool too,’ and they never get to market and they overspend their budget and they’ll miss their schedule because they can’t keep their focus on it. We made a lot of those same mistakes early on, and occasionally still do, but we much better to try to keep focus.

What you want to create has to derive from a real need in the marketplace. So many people are interested in starting up companies and they’re looking for little holes in a marketplace that’s not been done. That’s really the wrong approach to it. It has to come from a genuine need and generally something you’ve experienced in your life, in order to create enough passion for you to want to go and solve that problem.

Follow Bivy on Twitter at @BivyApp.


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