The Founder’s Paradox: How to Stay Focused When Other Opportunities Keep Tempting You
April 29, 2019

The Founder’s Paradox: How to Stay Focused When Other Opportunities Keep Tempting You

by Brian de Haaff

It takes courage to have a single focus. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Because while it takes chutzpah to set really ambitious goals, that is not where the bravery comes in. No, that comes later, when you have to recommit over and over to the vision you have set in order to realize it. This kind of focus is not always easy — especially in rapidly-growing companies where there are so many promising new opportunities to pursue.

How do you stay focused on existing plans when other opportunities keep popping up?

It is especially difficult when those other opportunities look good — something most of us struggle with. People often refer to attractive new opportunities as shiny objects that are hard to look away from. And for ambitious founders, it is a real challenge to not look.

After all, optimistically seeing new opportunities is what led you to start the business. It is who you are. But along the way to building a great company, there are always the siren songs of shiny objects to attract you and distract you.

If you are a startup founder, I will bet at least one of these tempters sounds familiar:

  • The big customer who wants something slightly different than what you offer

  • The sales team pushing to develop an offshoot of your current product

  • The conference that wants you to keynote the event

  • The “Midas List” investor who really, really wants to introduce you to a stable of successful CEOs who can help grow your business

  • The consulting partner who wants to build a service offering around your product

Sometimes, new opportunities come from within. Inevitably, you learn new information on your journey and face challenges that make you reconsider what is ahead. Hard times will make the idea of veering onto another, seemingly easier path quite compelling.

You have to stay true to that core idea if you believe it has real value and know that it is worth your focus.

Changing direction is rarely a faster avenue to success. It is up to you to interpret what you are achieving and whether more success is ahead. If positive patterns are emerging, then you should have authentic confidence to stay disciplined and inspire others to work towards the future you see as well.

But how can you stay disciplined when attractive new opportunities continue to emerge?

Memorize your vision Well, first you need to write it down. This will force you to edit your vision down to its essence, which is a great focus exercise in itself. But once you do, then you need to memorize it. Because your vision needs to be ingrained in your psyche — a part of you that you cannot drift away from too easily.

Share it with the team — often Just as you will be tempted to redirect away from your core idea, the team will too. This is why part of your work (perhaps the most important part), is to share that vision with the team often. You cannot assume that everyone will memorize it as you have.

Use your vision as a lens Consider each new opportunity. I know, this seems at odds with the idea of focus. But you have to be open, because every so often you will find magic. So, use your vision as a lens rather than as a blinder. This approach will help reshape and enhance what you can become.

Document potential impact To do something new, you almost surely have to stop doing something you do now. What would you have to eliminate and what is the cost of doing so? Understand how the new would impact the team and customers. What more would people need to know in order to be successful?

Explain with kindness Now, you have your answer. And you know why you arrived at that answer too. So, explain it as transparently as you can. Tell people who present you with new opportunities that you are grateful that they approached you and why now is not the time. Sometimes that answer is simply, “I am focused on growing the business and do not have time.”

Be grateful for today Looking forward is what got you to where you are — your current level of success. Be grateful. Appreciate the significance of what you have already accomplished. And just like that vision, share this outlook with your team and make it part of the culture.

Disciplined focus is not easy. But neither is building a lasting business.

It is one of the most difficult challenges a founder faces — when to stay the course and when to trek a different way. Have courage that you can achieve what you set out to do. Know your vision and use it to guide you and the team. And be clear on everything you have learned to date and the cost of every action you take.

Because progress is not a privilege. It is your responsibility to honor what you have realized and keep advancing your success.

Read more of The Founder’s Paradox.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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