Focus is the most important thing to have when starting the entrepreneurial journey. There are a million different paths you could take, but it does no good to think about many and pursue none.
The man who chases two rabbits catches neither — Confucius
I’ve never seen focus as a full topic in anyone’s crash course, but let’s talk about the aspects of focus that are absolutely crucial.
You need to find 1,000 customers that will be insanely loyal. Don’t shoot for 1,000,000 customers who like you. They aren’t as valuable (and are significantly harder to accumulate) than 1,000 customers that love you. Seth Godin calls these people your “tribe.” They do the same things, they listen to each other’s recommendations and when you find a tribe, they will grow your idea for you.
This forces you to buckle down and focus on who the first users will be. You want to find champions of your idea. These are the people who feel the most pain of the problem and are willing to try your new solution. Once you pinpoint these users, you know for whom you are building. Ideas rarely work like Field of Dreams. If you build it, it’s quite possible that no one will come.
If you don’t know who the first bunch of people to use your product will be, you need to figure it out before you keep building for no one!
Ideas all hinge on a guess. Airbnb started with the guess that people would be okay staying over at a stranger’s house to pay less than a hotel. Think about your idea and figure out what your guess is. Is it, “people want a luxury mousetrap,” “people need a better place to get music news” or “people need better ways to buy and sell textbooks.”
Make this guess into a testable hypothesis (in the form of an “if, then” statement). This idea comes from Eric Ries’ Lean Startup Methodology. For example: “If staying in a stranger’s home is cheaper than a hotel, people will do it.” All your guesses should be framed as a hypotheses or else they will always remain guesses. As your business progresses, you need to eliminate uncertainty by continuously testing these hypotheses.
Don’t get married to the product. Get married to the problem. At the core of your business is a problem you are solving. Don’t build something that doesn’t solve a problem. If your vision is “an app that does x, y and z” you need to first think about the relevant problem. The biggest reason startups fail is because there is no need. This is tough because problems to us might not be significant problems for anyone else, so we have to test our assumptions.
Find the cheapest and fastest way to test your hypothesis. To start Airbnb, the guys put an ad on craigslist that they had a spare bed during a busy conference in San Francisco. This is a brilliant way to test! They didn’t need to build their own custom website with all these features (and drive traffic to it). All they needed to test was the fact that people would be willing to stay with a stranger if it were a cheaper option.
Keep this in mind. You usually don’t need to build a custom website or an iPhone application in order to prove that the problem you’re solving is real. Before you spend $10,000 on manufacturing, make a cheap prototype and get it in people’s hands. Get their feedback and and refine the product. Before you invest a lot in the development, gather a preorder list to make sure people are actually interested in what you’re building. Before you build an app, make wireframes and map out what the end product will look like and test how users interact with it.
All three of the above ideas help you focus on the most relevant problems. The beginning is kind of like a puzzle. You might think you know how it will all go together, but in the real world, it takes longer and is messier than you would envision. The good news is that getting one of these pieces right will help you get the other pieces. If you put out a test version of your product, your crowd might naturally gravitate towards it. Work closely with these early users to further refine your product before you look to expand into a mass market.
Tomorrow morning we’ll talk about concrete ways to test your assumptions and get your idea moving!