Startups have a hard time staying focused. It’s the nature of the beast. The enthusiasm founders have for their startups can very quickly lead to chasing too many opportunities.
The big risk? Running in every direction, chasing every lead, idea and opportunity only to realize at the end that you’ve made very little progress. And this might not sound too serious until you also realize you’ve run out of money, can’t raise more capital, certainly haven’t generated enough revenues and…ugh.
Startups are great at finding opportunities. The enthusiasm, creativity and freshness of startup founders often gives them the ability to find new solutions – they’re not locked in a box. And don’t forget their risk profile. Startup founders, by their very nature, have to be risk takers. That’s a good thing when looking for new opportunities.
So you can’t take away the things that make startups and startup founders successful – risk-taking, enthusiasm, creativity, etc. – but at the same time, those traits often lead startups to chase too much at once.
That’s really the key. Startups need to be laser-focused on what they’re trying to do. It’s damn near impossible – especially when having to simultaneously build a product, sell a product, market a product, hire A-talent, raise more money, manage operations and more – but without focus your startup is in big trouble.
I’ve suffered from “opportunity-itis” on numerous occasions. I still do. It’s so easy to get a bit of product feedback and chase those feature ideas. Or have a good conversation with a potential partner, and then decide to find 10,000 more partners like that. Or see a minor shift in the marketplace, only to revamp your entire business model and 12-month product roadmap (OK, I haven’t done that yet!)
You know you need to…but at the same time you have to be looking for the right opportunities to make your startup a success. So how do you achieve startup focus?
- Be Systematic. Running a startup is a crazy experience. Most of the time you’ll feel like you’re running a 600-mile sprint (because startups are the ultimate combination of sprinting and marathon racing), and doing anything in an orderly fashion is farthest from your mind. But taking a systematic approach is critical.
For example, let’s say you decide that partnering with a certain type of service provider would make sense – they can act as resellers of your product. Attack that idea systematically:
- Research the space
- Put together 2 or 3 offers
- Find a list of 50+ similar service providers
- Pitch them each one of the offers
- Measure the response
- Collect feedback
- Decide if partnering with those service providers make sense
- If yes, find a list of as many as you can, hone the pitch that worked best and go get ’em!
- If no, drop it and move on.
- Be Merciless. Opportunities that take too long to materialize are bad opportunities. Startups don’t have the time – especially right out of the gate – to spend long periods of time in negotiations or chasing leads. That’s not to say that every long-term deal is a bad one (raising money for example takes many, many months), but don’t waffle around on things that aren’t making serious progress.
- Be Organized. It’s almost impossible to succeed unless you’re well organized. That goes beyond stating the obvious. But something that might not be as obvious is making sure you have the infrastructure in place to support what you’re doing. For example, once you get into generating leads and sales, implement a CRM tool. It’ll help. It’ll keep you focused. A project management tool of some kind isn’t a bad idea either; at minimum be merciless and vigilant about priorities so you know what needs to be done first, second and third.
- Be Analytical. Question everything. Track data on everything. Test everything.
Staying focused in a startup is a true balance between enthusiasm, creativity, new thinking, aggressiveness and being systematic, merciless, organized and analytical. On the one side you have all the “fun stuff” and on the other side you have all the “boring” stuff. Lean too far to one side or the other and you’ll start losing focus very quickly. Finding a balance is key: Being receptive to opportunity without jumping on every single one that comes knocking. And generally I don’t think startups will lean naturally to the “boring side” so implementing some of the stuff I’ve mentioned above will almost immediately create more balance than was there before. And that’s a good thing.