Focus

Ryan Caldbeck is on fire on Twitter right now.  Ryan is the CEO of our portfolio company CircleUp, and he just joined Twitter for the first time earlier this year and is, I may say, feeling very comfortable in the medium.  Over the weekend he put up a great diagram-oriented tweetstorm with a bunch of gems in it. I will focus on this one:

Focus.  It is one of the most common topics of discussion with startups, at board meetings, in pitches, etc.  Are they/we/you doing too much?  Everyone wants to win at everything, right now, so there is always an inclination to do more.  Saying yes is easy; saying no is hard.  Saying no means FOMO.  Saying yes means opportunity cost (which is a little harder to internalize)

As broad as it may seem, the USV investment thesis is about focus.   Over the years, that focus has a) helped us develop a deep experience and specialty in a certain kind of company / investment and b) saved us lots of time by making it easy to say no to lots of things.  Today, we are seeing a new round of that kind of focus — I am particularly aware of it in areas like crypto/blockchain, where the groups/funds that are hyper-focused in the space and hyper engaged are way ahead in terms of their learning and network.

This is as true for individuals as it is for companies.  Here, it’s maybe even harder.  Who am I?  Who do I want to become?  What will get me there?  Closing off any potential door is painful.  But on the other hand, slowly progressing along a number of fronts is a recipe to get you nowhere.

In order to have focus you have to have conviction.  That the thing you are focusing on, while not being everything, is enough of a thing to chew on for a long time — and is important enough a thing that if you really succeed at it you’ll accomplish what you want to accomplish.

It’s really not easy, but experience and repeated observations say that it’s really important.

   

  • I think this is where I went wrong as a founder so far. Been told to focus so many times it has becoeb a cliche .But sometimes you really have 20 different ground breaking ideas that will lose their freshness if you wait .The real secret is somehow let’s some people stay ultra creative and build infrastructure of execution that is much more focused .

    In my opinion 1:1 ratio of startup to ideas is outdated and inefficient.

    • One of the great things is that once you reach a certain size you can do a bunch of things at once

      But it is hard to do it before then

      • Unless you’re a vc or incubator .I think there is a lot of room of optimization for how startups work .just like vcs are a thing of the past (like seed rounds), I think there should be more incubators working on ideas and letting natural selection proceed certain ideas to the next stage.

        Many digital agencies and consulting firms work on multiple things at the same time. But that’s very different then starting and running a company, which I have yet to experience .aha, so you’re saying you need to focus…

        This ties in nicely with the concept of universal income. Paying your me

  • LE

    To compete with the big box funds that are so large they are able to have a much wider ‘focus’ (‘see what sticks’) I wonder why VC firms don’t band together in a way that allows them to take advantage of opportunities that are not within their niche. Is this done? How could this be done? It allows for example a vc firm that doesn’t have a seat of the pants feel for the blockchain to have (in mafia terms) a ‘taste’ of it by somehow indirectly participating in what USV invests in (and of course vice versa). No oversight, no management, no involvement, no vetting just a minority participation and being able to take advantage of the upside (and not worry about fomo). (Managing this could tie into an opportunity for Carta.com btw..)

  • LE

    Who am I? Who do I want to become? What will get me there? Closing off any potential door is painful.

    I am a big believer in what we can call 20% rule. That’s an arbitrary number that says you should not be 100% focused on one thing but 80% (arbitrary once again) on the one thing but spread some time around (20%) on other things. Why? Because you don’t want all your eggs in one basket no matter how tempting it might be. By spending time on other things it allows you to hedge for the future and have plan b’s. And many times you find out (as I have many times) that the plan b’s are the thing that allows you to not be sitting with nothing to do when the tide goes out. Can’t stress this enough.