The early years of a startup can be chaotic and desperate. Even a great idea needs capital to get off the ground. In the beginning you need cash, so you chase every opportunity. You say “yes” to anything and everything because you need clients; you need investment; you need to turn your idea into an actual business. You are excited and you want to grow, so everyone who offers you money is a potential client, a potential investor, someone you need.
Unfortunately, every thoughtless “yes” leads you further into a trap. Too quickly you’ll take on too many things. You’ll have differentiated into too many products, options and services in an effort to please anyone who shows even a hint of interest in your company. In a few years, your company is just okay at a whole bunch of things instead of great at a few.
Saying “yes” disrupts your focus.
When you started your business, you probably had one great idea. You knew what you wanted to do, what kind of business you wanted to have. There was a central product, a main service, a particular methodology. You had focus and you were determined. In the rip tide of those early years, hold on to that focus. Keep it in front of you. To be successful and stay focused, you’ll need to do the following:
- Choose a business model. Obviously, as a startup, you are going to have to make changes. Adjusting to the environment is a skill that you’ll acquire quickly. But once you have the lay of the land and have seen the various possibilities, it’s time to put together the business model that works for you. Figure out who you are trying to market to, why they’ll want your product, how much they’ll pay for it and how you will get it to them. You might have to do some experimenting, but when you find something that makes sense to you, follow that course.
- Pick one or two things to be good at, and stick with them. To be the best, you have to learn and build on your experience. If you keep changing what you do and moving with the whims of potential clients, you’ll never get good enough to be at the top. People will ask for products or services that are just one step away from what you already do. You’ll be tempted, but don’t give in. The slippery slope quickly degrades your business and takes away from your ability to develop and invest in that one thing you know you can do better than everyone else. You believed in your idea enough to start a business; believe in it enough to see it through.
- Fire your bad clients. Of all the challenges to focus, this one is the hardest. Once you take on a client, you may feel obligated to continue working with them. But bad clients will suck you dry. They will take advantage of your need for cash; they will cling to you in the hopes that you can do what no one else can: fix them. Look at the ROI. Consider the advantages or benefits to working with these people. If you can’t find the upside, get rid of them. You’re going to survive a lot longer if you don’t let people suck your blood. Focus on your product. Don’t trade excessive time commitments for a little money.
The more opportunities you say “yes” to, the more you lose the value of what you are trying to accomplish. When you are wide-eyed and money-hungry, coach yourself to say “no”; to turn things down when they don’t fit or if they won’t bring in a significant return. Do not take on every opportunity. Stick to what you want to do. Imagine your end goal — what you want your company to look like once you have made it. And above all, stay focused — after all, it’s your business.
Ty Morse is the CEO of Songwhale, an interactive technology company focusing on enterprise SMS solutions and Direct Response campaigns, both domestic and international. Since the company’s 2007 launch, Ty has grown Songwhale from 2 people to over 100. A two time Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, Ty has been featured in the NY Times, Wired, NPR, PBS, and Discovery Channel and published in Forbes, the NY Report, and Geek.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.