10 February 2008

The Power of Focus

Most early stage company failures are not caused by starving from a lack of good ideas. More often than not, instead they are choked by trying to digest too many at the same time.

Competition is fierce. Even companies with unique offerings run up against companies with orders of magnitude more of resources, experience, existing customer relationships and brand awareness. They can often favorably compete with the new entrant, even with a not-as-good solution. As the business world continues to expand, this competition will accelerate and they will set even higher hurdles for these entrants.

There is but one proven way to compete against these business Goliaths. That is to focus intensely and put all of your resources and momentum into driving that single finely honed direction. The sharper your focus the less "force" needed (or the more powerful it will become). Anything short of complete focus diffuses your efforts. Incumbents find it much easier to defend their turf when a new entrant gets distracted by things that blur the new entrant's vision.

Then why do so many early stage companies chase multiple opportunities rather than just one winning strategy? Our research tells us its risk aversion. Despite their entrepreneurial risk- taking swagger, CEOs (and sometimes their investors) like to hedge their bets, invest in several potential projects, hoping one will bear fruit. (Maybe some of this is because CEOs have short attention spans.) But this lack of complete focus is actually riskier than pursuing the one effort that really might have a shot at winning.

Confucius has been quoted as saying - he who chases two rabbits catches neither.