(The nuance of) focus is essential for all startups

One of the main challenges for startups is the need to keep several balls in the air at the same time.

From obtaining customer insights and building a product, to hiring people and designing a legal structure. I see lots of entrepreneurs juggling. And consequently spending precious time on the wrong things. That’s why I advise them to focus.

Eh, but Arthur, weren’t you the guy who recently told us that ‘Focus is bad for early stage startups’? I did! And I did not change my mind about that previous blog. I however want to show the nuance of focus. And thereby the nuance and difficulty of every piece of advice that startups get.

During my (former) career as a startup entrepreneur, I often asked three different experts to advise me on the same matter. All three would give different answers and leave me puzzled. Years later and wiser I realized that all of them were both right and wrong in different ways. As a startup you should try to listen to the nuance in every advice. And figure out how to combine all of those nuances.

Focus your activities

So for example, when I advised that focus is bad for early stage startups, the nuance is that the focus should be on your activities. For startups it’s often logical to work on customer validation, technology, raising money, hiring people, fixing legal stuff and determining your market strategy all at once. And then they get an email from a potential investor and drop everything.

BAD decision. If you have decided that validation is your most important activity (or building, or whatever you chose) don’t get distracted. It will ruin your effectivity. In this case focus on your most important activities is exactly what you need.

Then again (early stage) startups should not focus on their market strategies too early, because they will miss out on important market opportunities, as I stated in my previous post. Many startups told me they really liked this statement. One startup shared that they chose the wrong market themselves, and only realized this a year after the launch of their product. They would have loved to make that pivot much earlier and could have done so by losing some of their focus.

‘funding mode’

Should you ignore that email from the VC then? Definitely not! It’s good to build relationships with investors. But don’t make a fuss. Reply that you can meet, but preferably at your office, since you’re in validation (or another) mode. Have a meeting of one hour max, tell them that you will call back when you are in ‘funding mode’. Put them on your list of investors and get back to your focus activity.

Focus is always your main point of attention. It’s not the only point, but the main. It’s 80% of your activities. Sometimes 95%. Sounds easy, but it’s really easy to get distracted, also by all the advice that is given to you by advisors like me.

One experienced entrepreneur told me he liked my previous article, mainly because he’s fed up with all those one-sentence-mantras that are advised to startups. I fully agree. Oneliners sound great, but they mostly miss the nuance of reality.

Arthur Tolsma is a (freelance) startup coach, contact him via arthur@yesdelft.nl

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