Ryan Caldbeck is on fire on Twitter right now. Ryan is the CEO of our portfolio company CircleUp, and he just joined Twitter for the first time earlier this year and is, I may say, feeling very comfortable in the medium. Over the weekend he put up a great diagram-oriented tweetstorm with a bunch of gems in it. I will focus on this one:
9/ So many people told me to focus even after I thought we were focused. They were always right. pic.twitter.com/GZeXzzNqnX
— Ryan Caldbeck (@ryan_caldbeck) April 7, 2018
Focus. It is one of the most common topics of discussion with startups, at board meetings, in pitches, etc. Are they/we/you doing too much? Everyone wants to win at everything, right now, so there is always an inclination to do more. Saying yes is easy; saying no is hard. Saying no means FOMO. Saying yes means opportunity cost (which is a little harder to internalize)
As broad as it may seem, the USV investment thesis is about focus. Over the years, that focus has a) helped us develop a deep experience and specialty in a certain kind of company / investment and b) saved us lots of time by making it easy to say no to lots of things. Today, we are seeing a new round of that kind of focus — I am particularly aware of it in areas like crypto/blockchain, where the groups/funds that are hyper-focused in the space and hyper engaged are way ahead in terms of their learning and network.
This is as true for individuals as it is for companies. Here, it’s maybe even harder. Who am I? Who do I want to become? What will get me there? Closing off any potential door is painful. But on the other hand, slowly progressing along a number of fronts is a recipe to get you nowhere.
In order to have focus you have to have conviction. That the thing you are focusing on, while not being everything, is enough of a thing to chew on for a long time — and is important enough a thing that if you really succeed at it you’ll accomplish what you want to accomplish.
It’s really not easy, but experience and repeated observations say that it’s really important.
8 comments on “Focus”
I think this is where I went wrong as a founder so far. Been told to focus so many times it has becoeb a cliche .But sometimes you really have 20 different ground breaking ideas that will lose their freshness if you wait .The real secret is somehow let’s some people stay ultra creative and build infrastructure of execution that is much more focused .
In my opinion 1:1 ratio of startup to ideas is outdated and inefficient.
One of the great things is that once you reach a certain size you can do a bunch of things at once
But it is hard to do it before then
Unless you’re a vc or incubator .I think there is a lot of room of optimization for how startups work .just like vcs are a thing of the past (like seed rounds), I think there should be more incubators working on ideas and letting natural selection proceed certain ideas to the next stage.
Many digital agencies and consulting firms work on multiple things at the same time. But that’s very different then starting and running a company, which I have yet to experience .aha, so you’re saying you need to focus…
This ties in nicely with the concept of universal income. Paying your me
To compete with the big box funds that are so large they are able to have a much wider ‘focus’ (‘see what sticks’) I wonder why VC firms don’t band together in a way that allows them to take advantage of opportunities that are not within their niche. Is this done? How could this be done? It allows for example a vc firm that doesn’t have a seat of the pants feel for the blockchain to have (in mafia terms) a ‘taste’ of it by somehow indirectly participating in what USV invests in (and of course vice versa). No oversight, no management, no involvement, no vetting just a minority participation and being able to take advantage of the upside (and not worry about fomo). (Managing this could tie into an opportunity for Carta.com btw..)
I am a big believer in what we can call 20% rule. That’s an arbitrary number that says you should not be 100% focused on one thing but 80% (arbitrary once again) on the one thing but spread some time around (20%) on other things. Why? Because you don’t want all your eggs in one basket no matter how tempting it might be. By spending time on other things it allows you to hedge for the future and have plan b’s. And many times you find out (as I have many times) that the plan b’s are the thing that allows you to not be sitting with nothing to do when the tide goes out. Can’t stress this enough.
I like that
This post resonated with me, so much so that I wanted to share a story I learned the hard way back when I was 8. Our science teacher told us to do the typical experiment holding a magnifying glass towards a piece of paper, using the heat power of the sun. Because I was anxious to get more done at once, I spread five or six pieces of paper on the floor, trying to provide some heat, one at a time.
Long story short, I couldn’t light any of the pieces into flames, obviously. The moment I concentrated the heat on one, I wanted to move to warming another one ‘because that didn’t burn’. Little did I know I was discovering back then the magic principle of focus: you have to stick with one long enough to make it burn.
The corollary was that my teacher was smart enough to share with me some wisdom: if you’d stayed with one long enough, until it burned, with that one on fire you could light up the remaining pieces in a second. Touche. Never forgot that lesson, but painfully hard to do.
Especially about lighting the others once you have a single one on fire
That is so true for startups too!
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