I’d like to start this blog with a practical explanation why the importance of focus is not just a myth.
Todor Sarakchiev and I were able to somehow articulate this during one of our joint lectures in Sofia University. A week before the class we asked the students to analyze what could be considered as critical success factors, differentiating now super-successful ventures like Facebook, Square, Instagram (recently acquired by Facebook) and a few more, from their competitors at the time they all have been just start-ups.
Among others, one of the most common facts turned out to be that they’ve focused, eventually after a few pivots, on executing something very sharply and thus gaining the market leader position, even if the particular market may have been quite small at that initial moment.
Here is a kind of “algorithm” for world domination, where the right focus is the foundation for success:
- Disclaimer: First, we must admit that the right environment for the particular idea should be there. And it all starts with the visionary opportunity recognition.
- Then comes the most tricky part – to focus on something particular. There is a plethora of sub-opportunities to take. And in this initial moment it’s not as obvious which is the best one, as it is post factum, after you are already quite successful… or have failed. However, focus grants at least two very valuable ingredients for your eventual success, as explained in the next bullet.
- Effective execution and clarity. The less things you do, the faster their execution. Also think about it that way – the less features your product has, the easier it is for your users to perceive it and the lower the barrier for them to jump in.
- Having something delivered fast, and with sharp feature set (think MVP) allows you to do something very very important – to iterate. This topic is very well covered, including in books like Steve Blank’s Four Steps to Epiphany and Eric Ries’ Lean Startup. The important thing in the context of this blog post is that focus is the foundation that allows effective execution, and effective execution allows for iterations and pivoting if(when) needed. Another important thing about iteration is that it naturally forces you to overcome two big problems – arrogance, that makes you think you know better than your customers what they actually want, and lack of self-esteem, that makes you feel your product is never good enough. Strangely or not, but those two are not uncommon and a very deadly combo for a lot of early stage start-ups.
- Great product (no matter how big or small) that customers actually want is where you want to be after several iterations, and this is almost for granted if you’ve done things right so far.
- It’s much easier to leverage a great product, compared to short-sighted modest one, to world domination. It would either be viral, or have high net-promoter rate.
- From then on you either scale organically or it’s much easier to acquire the outside resources needed to do so (read VC funding). Of course your idea should be scalable, or more precisely said, you should have already pivoted to the scalable idea.
That’s it. Keep it in mind the next time you want to dilute your focus with too many things. Someone will always be faster than you if she focus on a single thing. Of course, synergy between products or features may brake this rule, but you better think of it like an exception or as a part of your strategy at a later stage.
UPDATE Aug 14, 2012: Tom Tunguz has just posted about going mobile first and a substantial part of his motivation to proclaim so is the shorter time to build a MVP for a mobile because of the naturally limited feature set there
UPDATE Aug 30, 2012: This blog post was cross-posted in the LAUNCHub blog.