A Focus Secret for a Successful Startup

I recently gave the opening talk at a Startup Weekend, and since the reaction to my talk was overwhelmingly positive I thought I’d share one of the concepts I covered here.  If you’re already perfect at managing your time then you won’t learn anything here.  But if, like me, you struggle with time management issues, there might be something here to inspire you to approach certain decisions differently.  And while this is geared for startups, I think the concepts apply to anyone.  Let’s get started.

Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend

Startup Weekends are held worldwide and engage local entrepreneurs who come together for an intensive weekend of pitching and developing ideas and ultimately competing in front of a panel of judges.  They follow a set schedule which begins on Friday night with dinner and a speaker (me, in this case) to get things rolling, proceed for many long hours throughout the weekend and then end with a competition late on Sunday.

The core of the idea I shared was this: just as we all have to wrestle with claims on our time that are either “urgent” or “important but not urgent” in our daily lives, there is a parallel concept for startups, where investing time wisely can have an outsized effect on the venture’s success.

Let’s start with the idea of Quadrant 2 (Q2) time management, which anyone who has read Covey is well aware of.  In the box below, Q2 is the upper-right box and is the place where the highly effective people maximize their time:
Q2 v3
Startups (or those executing on new business directions within an existing organization) face the same challenges. Just as in time management, the crisis of urgency in new ventures sucks time away from Q2 where success or failure can be determined.  Below I created an abbreviated version of the four-box time management model for entrepreneurs.  Since we all know that we want to avoid Q3 and Q4 anyhow I didn’t bother to address those.  Take a look.
Q2 v4 startup

Its easy for entrepreneurs to do a lazy top-down TAM (Total Addressable Market) sizing instead of the harder – but infinitely more valuable –  bottoms-up approach that requires research and time.  Perhaps the most important task that gets largely ignored is doing rigorous market interviews with prospective buyers.  Note I did not say “sales pitches to prospects”, but market interviews with potential buyers who might be in an inquiry mode but not yet a buying mode.  The word “interviews” reminds us that our role is to ask a lot of questions and listen carefully to the answers (and document them).

This problem is exacerbated in many startups I’ve seen that are founded by technical people to whom calling (and calling and calling…) to get real information does not come naturally. Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of determining their TAM and Target Persona by doing some internet research and arguing internally about how to interpret the results.

What I’m often struck by is how much better an entrepreneur’s elevator pitch and fundraising discussions can be if they put just a bit more time into the Q2 activities instead of living exclusively in Q1.

I covered a few other ideas in the presentation, but your time is valuable so I’ll simply post the full slide deck I used here.  If you’d like to discuss any of this further, please feel free to contact me directly at the bottom of this page.

Good Luck!  Here’s the slide deck:

P.S.  Anyone interested in being a disciplined entrepreneur should read this book.  I recommend it highly.