Focus At The Beginning

Yesterday I had a conversation with Rajiv Nathan.  He is a marketing consultant and does a lot of work with startups.  It would be worth your time to reach out to him if you are thinking about marketing. We talked about a lot of things but one thing we zeroed in on was how really tightly focused a startup has to be at the beginning to be successful.

I started reading Tren Griffin‘s book, “A Dozen Lessons for Entrepreneurs”.  The first chapter is about Steve Blank.  He says that startups go through phases,

  1.  A startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.
  2. A company is a permanent organization designed to execute a repeatable business model.

You need to be hyper-focused at the beginning even though you have all kinds of grand plans.  Writing a detailed business plan is a bad idea because it allows confirmation bias to put up blinders in your business.  Phil Knight in Shoe Dog said they were always operating by the seat of their pants.  Mike Maples says all this a bit differently, “A business model is the way that a business converts innovation into economic value.”

The game for a startup at the seed stage is survival.  It’s the transition from temporary to company and it’s the time that you start to prove you can turn your innovation into economic value for your customers.

Raj made a great point.  Wouldn’t it be cool to go take a look at the very first iteration of a company like Uber on the very first day?  They didn’t have a huge app that had all kinds of geolocation.  It was a phone call to an operator that found you a black limousine-like car.  There wasn’t GPS.  You told the driver where you were going.  The idea of Uber Freight wasn’t even thought of yet.  Uber was intensely focused on one simple thing.  They are a textbook definition of the TechStars mantra “be very pointy”.

I angel invested in Simple Mills.  They didn’t have a full suite of products when we invested.  They had one.  A bread mix.  They sold the crap out of it.  They focused on delighting their target market.  Their entire social media focus fit with the way the brand wanted to talk to the market and told their customers what they wanted to hear.  Today you can walk into Whole Foods or Target or Kroger or a lot of other grocery stores and buy the mix, but also crackers and cookies.  They are a godsend to people who avoid gluten.

That means different things to different startups.  In some cases, it might mean not rolling out your product to another city and staying intensely focused on one city so you can dominate it and learn from your customers.  In others, it means putting off expensive technology builds and testing your hypothesis in a low tech way to make sure you should spend the money to build it.

Focus, focus, focus.  I just don’t think it can be said enough.



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