Startup general interest

Ev Williams on ‘focus’

By January 15, 2011 14 Comments

I had Do More Faster by David Cohen and Brad Feld on my shelf for a couple of months before I got round to starting it last week.  It is full of pithy goodness and I wish I hadn’t waited so long.  This may well not be the last blog post inspired by what I read there, and it almost wasn’t the first – I came close to writing about Jeff Clavier’s piece on the three things seed investors care about:

People Products and Markets

A list he has recently updated from People, People, People (go read the book if you want more).

But this quote from Ev Williams, founder of Twitter, really resonated with me (it’s in the book, but I found it on the web in a post Ev wrote in 2005).

Focus on the smallest possible problem you could solve that would potentially be useful. Most companies start out trying to do too many things, which makes life difficult and turns you into a me-too. Focusing on a small niche has so many advantages: With much less work, you can be the best at what you do. Small things, like a microscopic world, almost always turn out to be bigger than you think when you zoom in. You can much more easily position and market yourself when more focused. And when it comes to partnering, or being acquired, there’s less chance for conflict. This is all so logical and, yet, there’s a resistance to focusing. I think it comes from a fear of being trivial. Just remember: If you get to be #1 in your category, but your category is too small, then you can broaden your scope—and you can do so with leverage.

In my experience focusing is something that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of entrepreneurs and for the reasons Ev sets out it is almost always the right way to go for small companies – being great at something is worthwhile, being average at lots of things, not so much.  Yet as Ev says, there is a resistance. It is interesting he sees the reason as a ‘fear of being trivial’.  I’m sure that is part of it, but my feeling has been that it is more down to fear of missing out on an opportunity, i.e. that by focusing on one thing and choosing to drop another you will miss out on the chance to get lucky, or maybe simply choose the wrong thing.  As I write this, I wonder if a resistance to focus might stem from a lack of confidence in the core idea.

I’d love to know what you all think – is there a resistance to focus? and if so, why?

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