Advice for startups: do one thing really well

WIRED-UK-June-2015 croppedThe June 2015 edition of Wired magazine leads with “41 lessons from Uber’s success”. Leading industry commentators shared their opinions, but it was Josh Elman from Greylock Partners that hit it out the park. Reflecting on Uber, his advice is to: “Do one thing really well – then figure out what the second leap is”. You can say what you like about Travis Kalanick, but that’s some of the best startup advice you will ever hear.

The most successful companies did this. 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 examples of startup focus

From identifying your target market through to execution, the advice holds. In a post about management bandwidth Mark Suster reminds us that 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 says:

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.

I often see Business Model Canvases stuffed with multiple value propositions. I hear ideas about entering 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, you don’t have very much of it: time, money, and people.

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