Focus Folly

There is nothing more common in startup land than to hear the advice of remaining focused. I used to believe this myself, but recently I’ve changed my view. I’ve changed my view because I think we focus too soon. We tend to focus when we think the idea or the space is we are playing in is hot. We should only focus once we have real in market validation. While there are many measures which validate a concept, media coverage does not amount to market validation. We have to remember the objectives of the media – especially when it comes to technology industries. What they want to do is the following:

  • Report on something new
  • Try and predict new trends and what’s next
  • Fill up their pages for traffic (fill the void)

Just because what we might be doing is interesting and different, doesn’t mean it will get traction in market. In fact, sometimes media coverage in the early phases of a startup is an indication the idea itself might be bad. They cover the new and the shiny, which could mean we’ll have a much harder job ahead of us in changing behaviour and redefining how something is done.

I think we can take a lesson from the old fisherman we see on the shore line. They tend to cast a lot of lines in the water and employ the multi-fishing rod strategy. Not knowing which one will get a bite. They use different bate and different sized sinkers. Some lines are cast far from the shore, while others are much closer. They are looking for validation, for a bite. And once they get a bite, they’ll focus on that particular fishing rod and reel it in. Focus, post validation, not before.

When it comes to non-fishing startups we need to look for real in market validation. Real usage growth and revenue are the simplest. And once we have that, we can start to focus without folly.


2 Comments Focus Folly

  1. Sam Sabey

    Hey Samma,
    I think early on – focus is easy. There isn’t much of an asset (yet) and it’s straight forward to build out that first most obvious part. Then after a while, there is more and more stuff, including customers etc that cause focus fragmentation.

    In short, after a while it’s very hard to focus, because there is more going on. Like your rod-men having to run to line to line.

    I do like fishing analogies, I like that of the fisherman whom goes to sea. When he can’t go to sea, he builds and fixes his nets. Which means in the inevitable downtime he is adding value to his rig, such that when it’s time to go back to sea he can fish.

    There are often so many moving parts, yet, most of the time not all of them are moving. The trick is when one must move into repairing the nets mode, because it’s imprudent and or foolish to go to sea.

    Sam, @samotage

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