Avoid Trends & Groupthink

by Adii Pienaar, Founder of WooThemes

Since day one, WooThemes has been based in Cape Town, South Africa, and it’s still the only place that we call home today. Even though we have a remote, international team today, that wasn’t the case when we started out.

We’re almost five years old today, and the fact that we’ve not been based in a major tech hub (Silicon Valley/New York/Boston/London/Berlin), has been a major advantage to us. Two major lessons that we’ve learned from our supposed geographical disadvantage are that trends are never as important as mainstream media makes them out to be, and, as such, startups should avoid the groupthink mentality.

Founding a startup—especially online—has become the hipster thing to do these days. In itself this is great for the worldwide economy, but this me too mentality isn’t always based on best practice. For example, as startup founders and entrepreneurs we’re working way too hard, just because our idols say we should.

Somewhere along the way, entrepreneurs stopped challenging the status quo and just started accepting certain things as being the default when working on any kind of startup. Things like working 80 hour weeks, raising outside funding (versus bootstrapping), hiring aggressively from day one, moving to San Francisco, surviving on ramen noodles (you get the point) have become such a standard war cry for new startups that it borders on irrationality.

I’ve also seen that kind of groupthinking applied to new products and services that are launched by startups located in the same areas. How many social, consumer-focused mobile apps do we seriously need? I’m sure a cute little kitten dies somewhere in the world every time TechCrunch announces that another of these startups have raised funding.

The problem with this isn’t necessarily that all of these things are bad or that we as entrepreneurs have stopped innovating. The problem is that tapping into the mainstream (for anything) is incredibly hard, and only a very small percentage of entrepreneurs will ever succeed in that pursuit.

Being based in Cape Town, I can partly say that ignorance has been bliss (especially in the early days) and that we thus avoided this groupthinking completely when we created WooThemes. I don’t think we’re overly sexy, groundbreaking, or world changing—and we’re most definitely not mainstream—but we have managed to create a profitable, sustainable and global business with our unsexy idea.

The thing about all the cool kids chasing after the mainstream trends is that it leaves so many gaps and niches elsewhere. These gaps and niches aren’t necessarily $1 billion opportunities, but they might be $10 million opportunities. And on top of that, you’ll probably need to take on much less risk pursuing a $10 million versus a $1 billion idea.

Today—more than at any time in history—we can boast that so many of the greatest minds in our societies are working on a startup of some kind. But we’re not getting those people working on the most complex problems in the world, since most are pursuing trends.

If you’re in a startup today or planning on one tomorrow, think outside the box, challenge the status quo, make your own decisions (not the ones that the mainstream dictates), and avoid the groupthink.

On top of it all: Buck Trends.

Adii Pienaar is an entrepreneur, husband and very new father, based in South Africa; the combination of these roles results in an epic & challenging journey. Unlike the bios of most “serial” entrepreneurs, Adii is (at the time of this going to press) a one-hit wonder with his role as co-founder & CEO of WooThemes. That status isn’t for a lack of trying either; it’s just that the other attempts lost more money than they made…