The single greatest competitive advantage a startup has is it’s focus. It’s what you must do. It’s how you can survive and advance. It’s where you find differentiation. It’s why you can slay big dragons. Here’s some key considerations for finding your Startup Focus and putting it to work.
The Art in Absence of Resources
Being an entrepreneur is the art of working in absence of resources. Sometimes this is about finding creative solutions. Sometimes this is about grit and hustle. But it is always about choosing what to focus on — and what not to focus on.
What you and your team focuses on costs you time and resources, the two things you have the least of. So choose wisely, but avoid analysis paralysis and consensus therapy. Make decisions fast.
Entrepreneurship is experimenting at the margin. There is a boundary to what you know and your prototype. You run experiments to push out this boundary. Run experiments beyond this margin when you are ready to give up what you know, otherwise it is a distraction.
Big Companies are Focused on Other Things
The source of your advantage is what you focus on, and that others cannot focus it as well as you. Big companies have bigger fish to fry, and got there by finding a singular focus that worked. Now they are maintaining what that became at scale.
This makes them blind to the smaller things you would focus on, and may grow to become their Innovator’s Dilemma. See Stephen Sinofsky’s masterclass post on competing with BigCos:
The opportunity exists because when big companies becomes successful is [that] when collective leadership becomes most focused on maintaining success. Leadership tends to see more risk in downside of the current plan and than upside in taking on new things.
Vision Brings Things into Focus
You have to have a vision about the future and how you company will shape it. If you are picking a big problem to solve, one that can motivate you and your team for years, and truly take it into your heart, you won’t have this problem. You’ll just keep making adjustments at the frontier of what you know guided by this compass.
But if your vision is limited to solving a small problem, the MVP niche alone, you’ll thrash about from pivot to pivot. This is a common problem these days because there is so much supply of seed stage startups, app store distribution favors small niches and not enough entrepreneurs value being mission-driven.
Your Startup Focus
A startup is a temporary organization formed to prove a hypothesis. And the best ones are counter-intuitive. Write this hypothesis down. For example, here’s the Pingpad hypothesis:
The shift to messaging inside organizations is the biggest in the history of the collaboration market since the adoption of email, and demands a new way to stay productive and focused.
We could be wrong about the platform shift, behavior shift, demand or solution. But we’re focused on a big problem space, have a vision for how the world is changing, how we fit in it, and are building out proofs.
When you choose to focus on something, set up the experiment in advance to know what it is, and what is success. So if it fails you can shut it down, learn from it, and change your focus. And when you learn more through success or failure, tune the hypothesis and it’s proofs.
Do Small Work
From the Startup Focus cascades the goals, objectives, measures, projects and tasks (and the softer stuff that aligns with the focus). As you break this down into smaller chunks to get to your day-to-day focus, real collaboration challenges in prioritization, extracting signal from noise, the complexity of software and markets and human nature.
Most team dynamics don’t favor working on small focused things incrementally. The instinct is to focus on building the big thing. Even though iterating this way builds higher quality outcomes. You have to take a leap of faith, because otherwise “the costs will feel real, and the benefits will feel theoretical and distant.”
I hope you find this helpful and in my next posts I’ll explore bringing focus into smaller teamwork. Stay hungry, stay focused.
If you want to help your team stay focused amidst Slack Overload — use Pingpad to organize, prioritize and track your projects with focused conversations.
(Cross-posted @ Medium | Ross Mayfield)