Wayyyy back in my entrepreneurial journey (around 2006), I was a co-founder of a tiny design and development company. It was actually an amazing gig with two super-talented guys.
We regularly met in person and shared random ideas and thoughts for things we could build that would get attention for our design and development services*. Silly ideas for apps, software, or random Tumblr accounts we thought might get a laugh. But on one occasion we found an idea that actually felt like it had bigger potential:
A search engine completely dedicated to improving the online shopping experience. We called it “piQul.”
(Wasn’t our 2006 spelling, so… 2006??)
The idea behind piQul was to solve the mental pickle that we consumers find ourselves in when we’re looking for the best. From headphones to podcasting microphone to running shoes, etc., piQul would make comparison shopping easier.
Our team hypothesized that searching the term “the best [ insert product ]” actually wasn’t enough. It was too broad because the best anything is always highly dependent on the environment you’ll be using that product in. The best headphones for a DJ, for example, are not the best headphones for a marathon runner. (Although that’d be pretty funny to see.)
PiQul would have you choose your product, and then add a qualifier about how you would use that product. It would solve your mental pickle by helping you make the best pick for your situation.
(Oh yes, I saved a screenshot and have kept it in a safe place all these years later!)
Unfortunately, we didn’t end up building piQul. Truthfully, I believe it was because we landed a well-paying gig and we needed cash to continue running our little company. But thinking back on piQul and what we were trying to build in 2006, I notice a lot of parallels that are still relevant to overall decision making today. Maybe even more relevant since we’re currently in Information Overload Times.
(Remember, this was 2006. There was basically no Twitter, Facebook was a newborn startup, and the plethora of blog content you’d find on Google today didn’t exist back then.)
To find the best of anything you need additional qualifiers
I’ve thought about piQul often over the years. It usually re-enters my brain when I’m searching Google or Amazon for the best [ insert thing I need to make my life better ]. What I’ve come to realize is that we were completely right in 2006: Best is subjective and nearly impossible to answer.
This tweet and response from @cobusvv is what sparked this thought and article:
Whats the best?
— Cobus van Vuuren (@cobusvanvuuren) May 31, 2017
The short story behind that tweet is I was looking for a simple microphone setup for my desk. My neighbor (Caleb) happens to be a Level 16 Audio and Video Wizard and has an office filled to the brim with audio equipment. While standing in Caleb’s office I was sharing what I wanted for this simple microphone setup. We both had this mutual understanding that I wasn’t looking for “the best microphone,” I was looking for “the best microphone + a setup that was compact, kept my desk clutter-free, used tech that I could operate, and sounded good in my ear.”
That’s a crapload of additional qualifiers, but without those qualifiers, what someone else might have recommended as “the best” wouldn’t have fit my needs.
When searching for the best of anything, define what you actually need it to be the best for
In the case of Cobus’ reply to my tweet about a microphone setup and his subsequent question “what’s the best?” there are a bunch of extra follow-up questions:
- What will you be using this microphone for?
- What’s your budget?
- Do you want the mic on a boom arm, desk stand, or other?
- Does the setup need to be able to break down quickly and store easily?
- Do you want a bunch of additional equipment on your desk to power the microphone and control all its settings (that you may not understand at all)?
I could go on and on.
Looking for the singular best of anything is like searching for the holy grail, the silver bullet, the overnight success. You can keep looking, but you’ll never find it. And you’ll probably be less happy with your final choice, too.
Whether you’re trying to find the best microphone setup, online course platform, literary agent, design agency, writing pencil, website host, etc., stop looking for “the best,” and start looking for the “the best + whatever you need to make it the best for your specific situation.”
Let me break down a couple “what’s the best?” scenarios
These examples relate to business, since I love online business and that’s what I try to focus helping people with.
The best designer for your project
Well, what is your project? Because a designer that nails wedding invitations is probably not the right fit for doing UX and UI design for your iPhone app.
The best developer for your startup
You might want to go cheap to save as much money as possible, but you’ll end up overpaying in the long-run. “The best” option here is to find someone who has worked with another startup before and has a proven track record. It’s like that quote from Red Adair: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.”
The best website builder for non-techies
Hands down, I would say Squarespace is the answer for 90% of people reading this. You don’t need much technical knowledge. Squarespace makes the entire process fairly painless. You can even buy your domain directly through them.
The best website builder for tech-savvy folks
WordPress. But you probably already know this. It’s versatile. The available plugins allow you to almost do anything you can imagine. Plus, hosting providers like Flywheel (affiliate link of who I use) make the backend side of things a no-brainer.
The best email marketing provider for non-techies
MailChimp. But you probably already know this. If you don’t, now you do.
The best email marketing provider for tech-savvy folks
Now things get interesting! We need more qualifiers—bring me ALL the qualifiers!
- If you’re a blogger, not doing much automation or fanciness: ConvertKit
- If you’re a small biz and want some automation and CRM features: ActiveCampaign
- If you’re wayyyy into automation (like crazy in): Drip
- There are probably 10 other qualifiers that warrant other answers. My friend Bryan actually put together a tool to help you pick your email provider. See how “the best” isn’t a single answer?
The best microphone setup for non-techies
My recommendation would be the RODE podcaster package. It’s a USB-powered mic (meaning you don’t need other equipment on your desk) and the package comes with the boom arm and shock mount.
The best microphone setup for techies
I’m probably not the person to ask. But Chase Reeves has a fantastic podcast microphone comparison video you can watch:
The best video setup for aspiring vloggers
Back in my YouTube day (2009), there wasn’t a smartphone that stood a chance at capturing great video. Now, all smartphones can. This young vlogger has a great video (squeaky voice and all) that helps you create a simple setup for $60.
The best video setup for professional vloggers
Oh boy, this can of worms is even larger than the podcasting can of worms. This veteran YouTuber has four options that would be “the best” by many standards.
The best launch strategy for a first-time product creator
Lucky for you, I wrote an 8-step launch strategy article related to this exact topic.
The best way to start your first online business
Oh, hey, I wrote an article about this, too.
*The best way to get more people seeing the work you create
Remember that asterisk at the very beginning of this article? You don’t? Well I’ll remind that it was related to a statement about getting attention for what we were doing as a design and dev company. One of the absolute best ways to get people to notice you and your work is to share that work and to spend time creating for the sake of creating. This story on how a designer would redesign Instagram is a fantastic example.
Obviously, I could go on and on and on. But for the sake of keeping this article succinct and circling back to the point, let’s finish this up.
Stop looking for the (generic) best and start looking for the best for your specific situation
Living in the digital age with so much information at our fingertips, we’ve become over-optimizers. And for good reason: 10 years ago it was a big effort to find “the best” of any category. 20+ years ago, the only way to find the best of anything was to ask a friend, watch TV, or read something written in one of those newspaper (or magazine) things. 10,000+ years ago, who knew how you found the best of anything. You were probably just trying to not get eaten by a sabertooth tiger.
I feel like we were on to something great with piQul, and it’s a shame it never materialized. But hey, it ended up coming back around over a decade later. I’d say piQul has done the best it could do as a fledgling idea.
The next time you’re trying to find “the best” of something, get a bit more specific and look for the answer that solves the actual pickle you’re in.
Oh, and if you were dying to know, here’s the desk microphone setup I ended up going with: It’s the RODE Broadcaster powered by the Blue Icicle, nested in the RODE SM2 Shock Mount and sitting atop the Samson Mic Stand.