Why Focus Is Overrated For Entrepreneurs
(by Dima Syrotkin – posted with his permission) Do you work on several projects at the same time? You can’t be a serious person! In the startup world, the discrimination against people who do more than one thing is huge. I personally had an experience when someone was offering me an executive position in a profitable “once-a-startup” company with a ton of equity on the condition I would drop anything else I am doing (the only exception the decision-makers tolerated was having a girlfriend). At the same time, we have people like Elon Musk (the 2nd richest person in the world) and Richard Branson (billionaire) working on a gazillion of projects. It’s hard to estimate how much time Elon Musk spends on countless side projects like The Boring Company and Neuralink, but at least Tesla and SpaceX consume 40–45 hours per week each. Talking about Richard Branson, just check out the list of his companies. We don’t know if Elon Musk and Richard Branson are successful because they work on several projects or despite it. We also don’t know if Elon Musk could start doing several projects from early on, or if it’s only something he could take on once he had a lot of capital. Nonetheless, these examples can’t be ignored. As for myself: – I have my startup Panda Training making business coaching 100x cheaper with AI. – I spend some time advising another startup LaunchClub which is a matchmaker for peer SaaS founders. – I am doing my PhD in Management and Organization focusing on companies that don’t have managers and use Holacracy and Teal as management systems. All while also spending an hour or two overlooking my investment in the longevity hackathon LongHack. I observed a number of benefits that such a work-life brings. Let me tell you the reasons why focus might be overrated. 1. Less fear of failure Having more things going on brings security. You know that even if one doesn’t work out, you have a plan B… and C, and D. This is also true from a financial perspective. Having three sources of income (LongHack doesn’t pay yet), it is easier for me to take calculated risks. One example from me is doing a PhD. While money is not the only reason I am doing it, a university salary provides a great sense of security. I can reason that even if I end up being the worst entrepreneur on the planet, I won’t be on the street. Even though this fear is not very rational, it still used to occupy a lot of my mind space. 2. More energy When I was just starting Panda Training and had no other commitments I found it really tough. I pushed myself to work as hard as I could to the point of only having the energy to watch movies in my free time. It might be counterintuitive, but having several projects provided me with more energy. I believe I am getting more done now than when I only had my startup. Here is why it works: context switching allows you to take a rest from a certain project. If I am trying to solve a problem and get stuck, it is very difficult to just “take a rest.” It works for some, and yet might be very difficult for workaholics. Side projects allow you to pay attention to something else and still be productive. Moreover, each founder is familiar with the emotional swings of startup life. There are good days, and there are bad days, and you feel hurt easily as you care so deeply about your company. Having several projects ensures that you are very unlikely to only encounter bad news on a given day. 3. Strategic thinking and creativity Certain things like strategy are hard to learn because the feedback cycles are often very slow. While in chess you know if you lost or won within an hour, for a startup it might take years. There is another way to learn. By borrowing from other fields and projects. This is also the benefit I see from using LaunchClub as a member: it allows me to meet many founders in similar shoes, start seeing patterns in the problems they are facing, and learn. Doing multiple things at the same time allows you to be creative and cross-pollinate ideas. Noam Chomsky used linguistics to answer questions about the brain and how it is built, and Schrödinger helped advance the understanding of the DNA while being a physicist. Amateurs often make scientific discoveries because it allows them to see things from a new vantage point. An example from me would be sharing tips and best case practices between Panda Training and LaunchClub. For example, when LinkedIn automation worked great for one startup, I could recommend the founder of LaunchClub to try it too. 4. Better prioritization A sense that you have less time for your projects than you used to pushes you to prioritize things. And that is great because you don’t go doing things that are inefficient on autopilot for years. I challenge my priorities every day. As a result, I feel like I ended up getting more done by working smarter. One example would be realizing that I don’t have enough time to do sales for Panda Training and involving a sales partner on commission. This saved me a lot of energy and allowed us to validate the cold calling customer acquisition strategy fast. 5. What you need to be careful about You might end up doing more hours. For some, it might be a downside. I always strive to be more productive and thus love that this work style challenges me. You also need to be aware if you are actually passionate about all the projects you are taking on. If you aren’t, then chances are that those projects will slow you down and only demotivate you. In my case, I am truly passionate about each of the things I am doing, and I try to pay attention to my engagement levels. Finally, you need clear priorities. For me, Panda Training is my number one priority and I work at least full-time on it, while other projects I only work part-time. That way you know how to allocate your time and what to focus on and what time. If several things are on fire, I will attend to the first priority project first. 6. What I didn’t mean to say Focus is not always a bad idea. One example would be choosing one product and one target audience to focus on as a startup. The reasons are outlined in great detail in the book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore. In short, to break through into the market with your new offering you need to concentrate your efforts because only the big fish wins and it is a lot easier to be the best in one thing rather than several. The lessons I shared above were inspired by the conversations I had on LaunchClub. It is a platform that connects SaaS startup founders in weekly 1-on-1 video calls to share advice. They either provide you a perfect match based on your requirements or none at all. I helped to build this exclusive community as a member and an advisor, check it out!