How Focused Are You With Your Startup

Many a story has been told of people starting their businesses while still employed. The best example would be Pierre Omidyar, who started eBay in 1995 while working full-time as a programmer. eBay turned out to be one of the first and most successful online businesses. A year after starting eBay, Omidyar would find out that he was making more money off the site than from his job; that was when he resigned. Omidyar would go on to become one of the billionaires who made their fortunes off the Internet.

In today’s tough business climate, would Omidyar’s case still apply? Would it still be feasible to work part-time on your startup without quitting your day job? Would you lose focus if you have other things on your mind?

In Wake Up and Smell the Startup, Michael Nus writes:

“It’s difficult, however, to just get tired of having enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table and most of the time, your white collar boss needs you for the full 8 hours (or more!) every day and sometimes on weekends. There comes a time when you have to make the hard decision to leave your security behind and take the plunge. That time is usually when your side startup either interferes with your job or your job interferes with your startup (i.e. you’re too tired from work to work on your business after hours).”

Although you can probably name a few people here and there who are starting their own business while still employed, I think that working part-time on your startup would be almost impossible, if not improbable, today. And even if it were possible to work part-time for your startup, to increase your chances of success, I would suggest that you put most of your time into it. Doing otherwise jeopardizes your chances of success.

The circumstances were different during Omidyar’s time.  Today, try starting a business, and you’ll soon find out that it’s not possible to NOT devote your time fully to it. The crowded market will attest to this; the fact that your startup’s product has been available before, albeit in another, less successful form, will ensure it.

If you don’t work full-time on your startup, how could you make a go of it? Otherwise, you’ll end up in the long list of failed startups.

Nus, in the above-quoted article, continues:

“There are no part-time rockstars, orators, or part time founders of truly successful businesses. All the people we admire from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg made their choice, even if it meant dropping out of Harvard, against the better wisdom of their peers to pursue something truly special. You can fit the mold and get your degree, get your job, get married and get buried, but if you want to change the world, you won’t do it at your cubicle.”

How Focused Are You With Your Startup by Jerome Gentolia

Photo credit: Bart Everson via Flickr

The most important consideration behind working full-time on your startup, though, would be that potential investors in your company would be put off by part-time entrepreneurs. Investors would not want to entrust their money to people who are not into their businesses full-time, who always have something to fall back onto. Rather, they want entrepreneurs who’ll be there, physically, to ensure their success. How can they entrust their investments with someone who has other responsibilities, i.e. their job, on their minds? To attract investors, then, would require your full-time commitment. This means knowing when to let go of fluff, or those ideas that interfere with your main product.

Nate Westheimer, in Dont Let the Noise Distract You, writes:

“Worrying about what so and so said and did with who, and where they were doing it, is exactly what you shouldn’t be worrying about if you’re working on a startup. Its not healthy and doesn’t really affect you*. What does affect you is whether or not you’re focusing on an “area of execution” for your business on that day.”

The late great Steve Jobs, in a 2008 interview, said:

“People think focus means saying ‘yes’ to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying ‘no’ to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.” 

Focus means not over-analyzing things to the point that they delay you from reaching your goal. This does not mean that you shouldn’t plan; you should. However, your planning shouldn’t interfere with your execution. Too much analysis often leads to paralysis.

Greg McKeown, in The One Thing CEOs Need to Learn from Apple, writes:

” In some ways, it makes perfect sense. CEOs often want to keep their options open. If they put all of their energy behind a single idea and it goes wrong, they will feel the full brunt of the blame. Yet, by pursuing too many priorities, these CEOs may actually be risking future success even more.” 

“Deciding to cut options can be terrifying — but it is the very essence of what we mean by making strategic decisions. The Latin root of the word “decision” — cis — literally means to cut.”

Focus also means not trying to do too much. Focus on the simple things then scale afterwards. Eliminate distractions, since they keep your eyes off your goal. While working on your idea for a startup, don’t think of other businesses to start.

Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, as quoted by Andy Cook in How to Kill StartUp Distractions, says:

“After my first company died, I did an inventory of the projects I had worked on in the last year. There were something like 30 projects that I had started on and not finished. My total weakness was focusing on things.” 

To help you eliminate distractions further and keep your focus, be off-the-grid while working. This means putting phone calls and emails on hold (until you have time for them), no unnecessary social networks, no long lunches, less meetings, and getting more work done!

In Being a Builder: Balancing Conviction and Criticism, Roger Ehrenberg writes:

“Distilling relevant input and shaping the product without losing the essence of the vision and mission is the delicate balancing act most founders face. Some founders hit product/market fit just right the first time. But the overwhelming majority do not. They have to synthesize massive amounts of structured and unstructured data and make good decisions. This is the magic of great builders.”

Focus is very important when starting a business. Don’t lose sight of it, keep your eyes on your goal. Focus, focus, focus!

  • Anthony Dejolde

    We can never underestimate the effect of “focus” in any endeavor. Business or not. Without it, no significant development will be done. Full of insight. Great work Jerome!

  • Murray

    Great article – I cannot imagine anything other than 100% focus on the venture you’re creating and have such a passion for. From my experience I wouldn’t expect investors attention if I gave anything less either.

  • Great article. I’m honored to be quoted.

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