Teachable’s Ankur Nagpal on overcoming SOS

Patrick Campbell May 18 2021

Control what you can control. 

I’m sure you’ve received this advice many times before, especially in the world of building where things are on fire all around you basically all of the time. But you know what, sometimes those things you can’t control are still extremely frustrating. 

For some of us it’s the world of sports—when we see our team down by one score and the superstar member of the team comes up short, which, obviously is frustrating. In our family and friends, we all have that one person who just can’t get out of their own way. And you just want to jump in and help, but you know it’ll just make things worse. I’ve personally have been there many times. 

There are some things though, that you can control. And if you don’t take control of that which you can control, it can actually be even more frustrating. And this energy is oftentimes what leads to the biggest innovation. You get so frustrated with something, you just need to jump in and take charge, and will a new reality into existence. 

At least that’s what happened with today’s guest—Ankur Nagpal, the founder and CEO of Teachable.com. He had a course on Udemy and got so frustrated with the limitations of the platform on building his customer base that it led him to found Teachable, a world-class course product, now with over 200 team members and thousands of course creators. His experience as an operator out of a place of frustration is extremely valuable for us to learn from, and you’ll get an exclusive look into the workings of his mind.


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Here we summarize the main takeaways for you to implement or hand off to your team for implementation.


Key term

What is Shiny Object Syndrome?

Shiny object syndrome (SOS), though not a medical condition, is a real condition that inflicts millions of business owners each year. It’s essentially the constant distraction caused by something new and exciting. Instead of focusing on the tasks that will fuel growth for their existing business, they get distracted by a new business idea or project that feels more exciting.

Why does it matter?

Shiny object syndrome is important to recognize because you could be hurting the growth of your business. And though coming up with new projects and ideas is needed for innovation, it can also be a harmful distraction from your already successful business goals. SOS, many times, is also the cause of unfinished projects, which also means you have wasted time and resources on something futile.


Action plan:

What to do today: 
  • Follow Ankur Nagpal.
  • Schedule a time to check your “symptoms”:  
    • You have multiple unfinished projects.
    • You’re constantly changing how you do things.
    • You have a promising or successful business, but you’re losing interest.
    • You can’t stay focused and neglect important tasks.
    • You’re constantly distracted by new markets and new technology?
What to do next quarter:

Depending on how many times you answered yes to the questions above, will determine how severe your case is. The truth is, most founders, entrepreneurs, creatives, etc., have SOS to some extent. Some would argue it’s what has led to innovation and success. As Ankur states, “The shiny object syndrome is probably something that’s heavily correlated with the same attributes that make you want to start a company.” He added that also having the desire to move in a certain direction (up), helped him overcome SOS.

So the trick is finding the right balance and using SOS to your advantage. Channel that desire for the new and exciting, in a new way towards your existing, long-term goals.

Below are some tips to help you get your SOS in check, so your business can continue to thrive, while still giving you a little of that new-and-shiny feeling and excitement. 

      • Recommit and look for new challenges within your business—there’s likely many.
      • Delegate—stop taking on too many new projects, so you can actually provide the proper attention and focus to each project.
      • Finish what you start.
      • Find someone to hold you accountable.
      • If possible, and depending on where your business stands, do more of what you’re great at.
      • When you do get a new idea, force yourself to explain the reasoning behind it. Will it actually benefit your business in the long run, or does it just feel exciting in that moment? Think of each idea as a serious business decision, because it is.


What to do within the next year?

Habits don’t change overnight. But the more you practice the easier it gets. As with anything, constant evaluation is good. In this case, maybe gear that evaluation towards what is working. This could help decrease the need for the chase. 

It’s worth mentioning that there is an opposite effect to the shiny object syndrome—sunk cost fallacy. Sunk cost fallacy is the tendency to continue with an endeavor because you have already invested time, effort, and money into it, even if the costs clearly outweigh the benefits.

Both, shiny object syndrome and sunk cost fallacy, are harmful behaviors if practiced in their extreme forms. While it takes time to grow a business, understanding if and when it’s time to cut your losses is important. Just as realizing that jumping from one endeavor to another is unproductive. Finding balance is key. You need innovation to continue growing, you just have to be able to know which ideas are beneficial and worth pursuing.

Who should own this? 

Founders, entrepreneurs, and creatives, are typically who more commonly experience SOS, but anyone with the above “symptoms” can benefit from practicing the tips provided.


Who's up next week?

Next week, Yousuf Bhaijee gives us the lowdown on word-of-mouth marketing and how to measure it.

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By Patrick Campbell

Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.

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