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3 things that kill focus in a startup

One of the key skills you need in running your startup is maintaining laser-like focus. There is a never-ending list of things that you could be doing, the hard part is identifying which are the “right things” and which are the “wrong things”.

You’re doing the wrong thing

Over the years I’ve come to see that there are 3 types of “wrong thing” that eat up your time. Spending time, money and brain cycles on “wrong things” has a compound effect over time and will be a serious threat to the success of your startup.

Wrong Thing: Type 1

Doing the right thing but at the wrong time. This is a pernicious problem, because everyone will be telling you that you are doing the right thing. Optimize your conversion funnel? It’s the right thing if you have a steady stream of new customers who already go on to use the product and you know what value they get from it. It’s the wrong thing to do if you are still looking for a market niche and you aren’t clear on what problem you are solving and who for. The right thing to do right now depends on your current traction stage. Many startups fail because they try to scale too soon.

Wrong Thing: Type 2

Doing the right things but too many other things that aren’t progressing your startup. They key here is to ask “if we are doing this, what are we not doing?”. It’s all about opportunity cost. If you spend time making t-shirts and stickers, are you losing the opportunity to speak with a customer? Where does the risk to your business sit? What can you do to mitigate that risk? Do that. Busy work, chasing vanity metrics, staying within your comfort zone — it’s eating up that precious time that you could be using to actually progress your business.

Wrong Thing: Type 3

Doing the right things but doing them badly. If you want to learn about customer needs, you should be doing targeted customer development, with individual people who fit your hypothesised customer profile. If you are carrying out unstructured conversations with no clear objective, if you are holding focus groups (nearly always the wrong format, you need to be an expert in research to use them correctly), if you are asking for feature suggestions then you are doing it badly. And badly is actually worse than wrong because it flies under the radar and looks right. Take the time to research the proper methods for each activity you do. Ask for expert advice. If you are going to spend your precious time on something, don’t screw it up by being unprepared and cocky.

Getting focused and taking this seriously

All startups should take their ability to focus deadly seriously. The objective that you need to focus on will change as your product gets traction, so make it part of your company heartbeat to check in on what the current objective is, how aligned you are to it, and what you can stop doing or do more expertly.

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