Advice for entrepreneurs: focus on doing one thing really well

Advice for entrepreneurs: focus on doing one thing really well

The June 2015 edition of Wired magazine leads with “41 lessons from Uber’s success”. Leading industry commentators shared their opinions, but Josh Elman from Greylock Partners shared the best piece of advice. Travis Kalanick may be a controversial founder, but Elman noted that the entrepreneur had the focus to: 

Do one thing really well – then figure out what the second leap is.

Successful entrepreneurs heed this advice. Elman cites Facebook’s beginnings as a private social network at colleges, before the company realized that the news feed could help propel the site into a massive multi-billion-user, multi-billion-dollar company. Uber, he says, was the same thing:

It moved from a black-car experience to being so effective and inexpensive – via UberX and UberPOOL – that users don’t need a car anymore. It’s that second leap that’s really important and exciting.

Other entrepreneurs who were focused

From identifying your target market through to execution, the advice holds. In a post about management bandwidth Mark Suster reminds us that the founders of Instagram didn’t rush to Android. They also didn’t do video. They were truly excellent at what they did do. They were focused.

Y-Combinator’s Sam Altman in his note Startup advice, briefly advises entrepreneurs to:

Focus intensely on the things that do matter.  Every day, figure out what the 2 or 3 most important things for you to do are.  Do those and ignore other distractions.  Be a relentless execution machine.

Entrepreneurs often show me Business Model Canvases stuffed with multiple value propositions. They tell me about how they are going to enter this market, or that market, across various geographies and appealing to a host of customers. Multiple channels will be used to connect with and acquire them, and customers will be able to choose various features and functionalities. Etc.

There is a simple factor in play in any startup. I call it resource, Mark Suster calls it bandwidth. Whatever you call it, as an entrepreneur you don’t have very much of it: time, money, and people.

Use it wisely. Solve a problem. Keep it simple. Stay focused.


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For more entrepreneurial wisdom, check out my post The best business & leadership quotes from ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight.

My post Daniel Kahneman on the cognitive biases of entrepreneurs, which details common entrepeneurial biases, and the importance of rational optimisim.

It’s easy for entrepreneurs to see, and pay attention to, only successful individuals and businesses, not the failures that fall by the wayside. This phenomenon is called survivorship bias: “the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility.” My post Entrepreneurs, beware survivorship bias explains.