Last week I talked about failure and how it relates to entrepreneurship. It’s worth a read if you’re new to the whole entrepreneur gig or if you have to work with or are close with one of us (admittedly, we’re a little neurotic).
To summarize, though (because I know we’re all busy): failure is not only a part of life but also a necessary ingredient for success. Additionally, failure can actually be freeing. If you’ve failed, you have nothing to lose — pick yourself up and try, try again.
Today I want to talk about something that’s fatal for a lot of entrepreneurs: a lack of focus.
I’ve seen a lot of talented and competent entrepreneurs burn out or fail because of a lack of focus. They try to do too much and spread themselves too thin. No one wins when this happens.
I’ve been guiltier than anyone else I know when it comes to focus. I have a lot of confidence in my abilities, so I get involved in a lot of different things. What happens is that I eventually burn out completely.
A year ago, I had a full-time job, was working on an engineering degree full-time and was working on three startups. For a while, it was all working well and everything was great. My boss loved me, I was making decent grades, and I was making progress in my startups. Not soon after everything changed. I was routinely late on projects, I was carrying a low GPA and my startups were lacking because I wasn’t carrying my own weight.
It wasn’t just a professional problem, either. I was having trouble giving due attention to the important people in my life and was falling into a very unhealthy lifestyle of fast food, no exercise and little sleep.
There was a problem. A big one, too. People were counting on me and I was failing hard. So I stopped. I wrote out a list of priorities. I focused and cut what I didn’t need.
I realized that my priorities were firstly for those I love and secondly for what I love — entrepreneurship.
Once I prioritized, I had to make difficult decisions. I quit my job and started a new one that paid less but had better hours and was better located. I sacrificed money in order to spend more time with those I love and doing what I love. In the end, what I realized (thankfully at a young age) is that it’s not all about money. You kind of cheapen your success if you burn all those you care about in the process.
I also focused on my startups. I’m down to just one now — NewAperio. By doing so, our company has taken off. We’re faced with more success than I could have imagined at this point. The amazing team I have working with me and our awesome clients are certainly an ingredient to this success, but more so is focus.
I’m really not the only one who has this issue. Two of my former cofounders faced the same problem. They’re now off to other ventures and are immensely successful in those. They picked one and are rocking hardcore on those.
Another friend of mine recently told me that he had been honored with a nomination to a very prestigious position. It’d have him traveling a lot, away from home and his company. It’d give him amazing exposure and he’d be talking with a lot of entrepreneurs from all over — a real passion of his.
After a lot of thought, he told me he decided to turn down the nomination. It was a little shocking — I thought he was a perfect fit for the position. But then he told me why: focus. He wanted to focus building entrepreneurship in our city, he wanted to focus on building his company — he wanted to focus on what’s important right now for him.
No one can know what he’ll be missing out on, but I know he’ll ultimately be happier focusing on the things he wants to do here and now.
In this business, there are a lot of pitfalls. We’re faced with countless problems, setbacks and failures. But of everything we face, the most dangerous is ourselves. Focus is a key ingredient to success — without it, you’ll never get anywhere.
Focus leads to success and, more importantly, happiness.
But focus doesn’t just apply to yourself. It also applies to your business — to your product and service offerings. The only way to understand how to focus your business is to be clear about your mission. What are you trying to do?
“Winning” by Jack Welch has a great chapter on mission statements. It’s not about writing great PR copy — it’s about figuring out exactly what your company is about and communicating that effectively to everyone in the company. You can’t be a successful company if there are people within it that don’t understand the mission. The whole company has to be moving forward in the same direction to truly be an effective company.
At NewAperio, our mission is to help our clients realize their passion. What we mean by that is we want to help our clients turn their startup idea into a real product or help a big company move into mobile and communicate better with their clients. We also want to enrich and edify the community around us. We do that by helping things like Creative Louisiana get off the ground and participating in community education — Evan wrote about his experiences and we have more coming in the next few months.
But we had to focus. We don’t take every client — we only take those we think we can help. We don’t participate in every venture pitched to us — only the ones we think fit in our mission. We don’t hire everyone we interview — only those that can help us move our mission forward.
Don’t fall into the trap that saying “no” is bad. If anything it’s good. But, as with everything, is best in moderation. Start in your mind with a no and let yourself be convinced. “No, Logan, this isn’t a good deal.” But it helps push our mission forward, we have the resources, and we can truly help — “Yes, we’re going to do this.”
It’s all about focus. A focused company is a successful company.