Focus. There is no but.

Giff Constable management, startups

Jordan Cooper, a bright NYC entrepreneur and investor, just wrote a post called “If you’re building for $1B, is “Focus” a Farce?” He writes:

“I find myself wondering if changes in the product development lifecycle are not giving birth to a new type of non-bootstrapped operation/execution that is more forgiving of experimentation at the expense of focus (think extension of the lean startup methodology).”

laserAlthough I know rules are hard to apply to startups, I’m pretty fiercely dogmatic when it comes to the issue of focus.

Prototypes are easier to build today, as are small lifestyle-fueling products. Serious companies are not.

I’m not talking about the situation where someone is dabbling around trying to find the right idea. That’s not building a company. Once you decide to build a company, you need to pick something and push hard on it. You probably will have to iterate and evolve, but you still want to be working on one problem at a time until your position is really solid and people are no longer thinking of you as a startup.

There is a reason why the most over-used startup word in 2010 is “pivot”, and not “diversify”. It is hard enough doing one thing really, really well. You have to carefully choose where you allocate your best resources. Your talent pool of stars is only so deep, whether management, product, design, sales, marketing, etc. I’m not talking about good, solid employees but your stars. They are the ones who make markets.

I’ll also add that startup teams can confuse a large funding round with market validation, and start diversifying too soon. The company raises fat money on a big vision, and now it’s time to go make that vision a reality. After being starved for resources, founders think, now I can hire the talent to do more! I will de-centralize so I’m not a bottleneck! They hire too fast. Management is stretched and of inconsistent skill. The teams get stretched. Quality suffers. Employees and the market get confused. The vision isn’t fully baked and instead of one bet to pivot, you now have multiple. As fast as the money runs out, credibility runs out even faster. I’ve seen it from the inside, and it’s not pretty.

It really doesn’t matter whether you are building a lifestyle business or shooting for the stars. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Focus first.