I love the line "More startups die from idea gluttony than starvation."
Unlike almost every other area of finance, diversification is one of the worst ways for startups to reduce risk. Startups are one area where it pays to put all of your eggs in one basket, so that you can intensely focus on that basket. Nice post, Dharmesh!
Spot on Dharmesh ... indeed business building requires constant balancing between focus and myopia !
Great Line: "Build a culture of Innovation that can function alongside a culture of execution."
I balance focus and forward thinking like this:
My team uses scrum, which is an agile project management philosophy for software development, when my team and I are on the hunt, mid-sprint, we focus like a laser on accomplishing the task we've laid out for the sprint. To me forward-looking visionary type thinking takes place in the shower, shaving, washing the car, mowing the lawn,,, etc. I make use of notes everywhere from my iPhone to the palm of my hand in true getting things done fashion. When our retrospective and planning meeting come around I look to my notes and we make decision on where to focus for the next sprint as a team. I live for entrepreneurship. Vision is my thing. Scrum helps me stay focused. I find it's a great balance. Any one else out there find Scrum useful for balancing focus and forward-thinking? How about any other project management philosophies/tools?
Interesting article. Thanks for sharing. Deepak Chopra said the big three factors in success (although he was talking about spiritual success, I think) were: Focus, Attention and Intention. As in, "Focus your Attention on your Intention and all thinks will materialize..." I think it is equally important to hold some background attention on your future intent... Keep something coming down the pipeline, so to speak. :)
I stopped reading your article a few paragraphs in.
It was hard to focus (ironically) on your article when it read more like PR for apple than it did as value for focus.
I'm not putting down your efforts. Please dont take it that way. I understand it was your point of reference (and I now you actually did put it hard work to write this up) but it read more on how great apple is than actual practices we can utilize.
Interesting material. Sometimes one needs to give up one's "focus" to be able to see the next big thing. Using computers as an example, if Apple had not tried to find the next best thing, computers would still be in a box on your desk, or on a cumbersome laptop. As it is, their in your phone now, or iPads, tablets and nooks...stuff you can carry in your pocket. So much for the old computer business model.
Outstanding article, this defines my management problem space perfectly. It's a daily intellectual battle.
Particularly like "The benefits of focus are non-linear — sometimes exponential" how true!
Dharmesh: Apple comes too easy and too handy for commentators, when talking about innovation, et al. You are forgetting one fact: Microsoft is a boa-constrictor, willing to wait, until its prey is squeezed to death. Remember netscape? Or Xbox? Sony and Ninetendo will always occupy No. 2 & 3 places. Wordperfect from IBM was destroyed by Word. AOL had a huge lead in AIM. Microsoft leveraged their clout with the Bush Justice Department, forcing AOL to open up AIM so that it could be compatible with Microsoft's IM (Internet Messenger). Bing is absolute junk, and I am talking from fresh experience, tried it yesterday, and pulled out of it within 5 minutes and went back to google. But, Microsoft is not going to junk Bing. In another 5 years, maybe it will be google's equal. As they say, there are many ways to skin a cat.
You start off quoting Jobs and Gecko. You might want to add RKF: "I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"
After all, isn't that the question that every start-up is really asking?
The product my startup is working on has applications in various arenas; direct to customers, web developers, marketing agencies, franchises, hosting companies, etc. We have several opportunities that have presented themselves from many different angles, so we're struggling with deciding what to "focus" on. One driver is picking those that can help us build upon our product while having the added benefit of getting paid for a project while doing so.
Ultimately the direct to customer approach will probably scale the most, but we don't have the privilege of being flush with Angel/VC investment at this point. Extending the burn rate is priority #1 right now.
Thanks for the post Dharmesh.
Focusing on your core strengths that separate your business from your competitors is how you keep and grow your customer base. You can not be the everything to everyone. Find your target market and focus on satisfying that need and your business will grow.
Good post Dharmesh!
Innovate or perish may also be a driving factor when companies branch out of their core focus areas.
For the business to be successful and grow you need to focus on the core business and focus on the future. You can change your focus on demand using innovation tools, such as the Creator Studio(tm) App
Nice material. Balancing your strength of focus to be able to see into the future as you take advantage of now is a critical aspect in biz growth. Don't over-focus that you loose track of time.
Insightful as ever Dharmesh!
One thing I would always advise innovators and entrepreneurs to lose focus on, however, is sales. Never take your eye of the [sales] ball.
The product graveyard is full of the world's best products that were beaten by inferior products that were sold better!
Brilliant post! You nailed it.
Whoops - of course I meant NOT to lose focus on - apologies folks for the typo in previous comment.
Focus is an easy thing to say and real tough to do.
The problem most people have is doing the "F" word on a consistent basis.
The best way to enhance your focus is hire a coach that's right for you. There's lots of great ones out there.
Hiring a coach is the best investment you could ever make in yourself. Go find one today.
Great article, at times it all seems obvious, I have to remember that.
Interesting ideas you present Dharmesh! One small thing though, is the idea of getting that glazed look in your eyes just before one successfully pivots to save the enterprise.
Although you described that moment in the Apple and Steve Job's creation of the 4 quadrant product matrix, Mike Somers' comment about lawn-mowing and showers as "forward-looking visionary type thinking" is dead-on.
As an example, I thought I was going to start a RentaButler business. Now I find myself in the "crowd-funding campaign manager business" because my clients need to raise money and it is the only way to get myself paid.
Note to Dharmesh: have our business development guy follow-up on this comment... don't want to miss out on the next bubble HubSpot is perfectly positioned for.
Sigh!! Im guessing that Steve got about as far as I did and then decided that were all within our own environments, reacting to our own stimulus, environment and instinctive decision processes. Thank god he just got on with it rather than reading constant blogs, assuming they would bring some wisdom. Well structured article, good way to fill column inches, but i just re-checked my bank balance and factually speaking I am no richer. "Pause and miss the opportunity" Just get on with it people....
That was a very very interesting article !!! I enjoyed that information !!!!
You lost me when you continue to talk about apple. There other great companies and they offers solutions along with focused marketing. I agree with you on the focus part. It is getting old to talk about apple and Steve Job. I guess it is fashion to talk about apple and Steve job in silicon valley and shamelessly associated your company and products with apple. It is a SEO trick.
In summary, you have to be lucky and good creative people in your team who can execute execute execute..
Sorry for being harshed.
Amazing article! It is wonderful to learn from experience of experienced folks like Dharmesh. Big wow!!
Dharmesh, since I was posting late in the night, forgot to mention Microsoft's release of Surface tablets. Although IT has 3 major players (Apple, Microsoft and Google), Apple and Microsoft have been a constant. The appearance of Google in the smartphone market has been an unforeseen event. Although Google had given plenty of heavy hints about their intentions by trying to bid for telecom spectrum, and filing patents, much before they actually jumped into the water. The takeaway is that innovation in today's market has a short lifespan, and the first-mover advantage can evaporate in next to time. While Apple has done a great job in building a complete eco-system for music and smartphones Microsoft is one company that refuses to be left behind in any major product/category.
Great post. Focus if my favorite mantra. For start ups, there is no question. Assuming that your product or service is sufficiently innovative, razor sharp focus is required to maximize your scarce resources.
But remaining focused is akin to driving forward by looking in your rear view mirror.
Ken Olsen credited the enormous success of Digital not for "what we did BUT FOR WHAT WE DID NOT DO". RIM stayed extremely focused on the amazing email/cellphone device that had made them a "category" onto themselves.
Unfortunately, neither company saw the shifting paradigm - in Digital's case, the emergence of Open Systems (Unix & microprocessors) and personal computers; and in RIM's case, the demand for handheld appliances that would be used more for apps and browsing than for email or voice calls.
By all means stay focused day-by-day, but also head the advice of Reis & Trout and ensure that you, not your competitors, make your products obsolete.
Excellent article. I've been working on 2 different startups and it's very difficult to maintain focus on 2 different things - in fact, it almost feels like I'm breaking the English language by saying 'focussing on 2 different things'.
Regarding the iPad and whether that was losing focus or not, I see focus as something that can get you up the hill that you're currently on, similar to stochastic annealing.
The hill is your business performance - getting to the peak requires focus but then once you're at the peak you may not be able to go higher in which case you have to make a jump to a different hill which has a higher peak...
I'm surprised no one has mentioned the consumer as an important part of the focus concept (hopefully it's been frequently implied).
Businesses that listen carefully and creatively serve up what consumers need (whether or nor they can articulate it) are usually a step ahead. And this isn't always the MO of American businesses.
However, just giving consumers what they're asking for would not have yielded iPod/iPhone (or Henry Ford's creation, for that matter).
The trick is focusing on what research tells you might work but marrying that up with gut feel about the "elegant leap" that will move the market forward.
In Apple's case (I agree it's an interesting company but a little overplayed at this point), their focus has always been on the consumer (that's partly marketing, but you gotta agree, they do have a flair for romancing people to embrace the new).
What fascinates me about Apple is how they take an ember of consumer insight or desire (consumer focus), marry it up with technology enablement (tech focus), and wrap it all in inviting marketing to create brand new markets (marketing focus).
In my view Apple's focus is a tightly intertwined, mutually-dependent combination of consumer, technology and marketing. The magic they've achieved is successfully orchestrating this combination at scale and staggering margins.
Great post Dharmesh. Your conclusion that it is a nuanced decision points to a larger issue that entrepreneurs face with every singel decision we make.
Nearly all advice we recieve, regardless of source, must really be taken with an "it depends" attitude. Reed Hoffman uses the term "false question" for this in his recent book. Problems happen when startups learn the conventional strategies and mythologies, and they abandon their unique, personal, nuanced judgement.
I find this quote below immensely helpful in terms of remembering that every decision as an entrepreneur is best made with out own personal nuance involved.
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” (Buddha)
Interestingly, Buddha was a prominent Entrepreneur post prince life and pre buddha.
*Best made WITH his own personal nuance involved, that is
If you subscribe to Simon Sinek's belief in the power of starting with why, Apple's focus is to create products that are aligned with its why:
“Everything we do, we believe is challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”
Having a clear "why" acts as a compass to help a company distinguish the opportunities where they can truly add value from the shiny objects and mirages of a rapidly changing market.
I love this article and recommended it to several people to read.
I'm a huge fan of focus and have seen it kill a bunch of good startups.
For me, it's not about only ever doing one thing, but about doing one thing until it's strong. Then you can move onto something else, like the iphone...
Of course, it helps to have a very strong set of focused values so that it all 'fits' otherwise you end up a big like Microsoft or Yahoo being a bit of everything. It's easy to say from the cheap seats though.
Focus should give you freedom to not worry if you're focusing on the right thing. If you focus on something small, you can test it very quickly and succeed/fail then move up/on.
We like it so much we wrote a book about it. Coming out soon; Pollenizer Startup Focus Book
Here's another relevant quote.
"The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one big thing.
- Archilochus, 8th century BC
I am currently reading the book"Inside Apple " on my iPad 3 and learning how Apple maintained the discipline to say no to 10,000 things and focus on shipping a few insanely great products per year. It explains how they can ignore the Mac Pro Computer hardware as they earn billions on IOS devices.
A very insightful post! It is often a big decision on whether to stay focused or stray from it. At Godot Media
, we face many of the issues that you've raised. And these decisions seem so critical, as they can have a huge impact on the future of the company.