A few weeks ago I shared a pivotal startup entrepreneur truth:

Launching a startup company is one thing; scaling it to success is another.

I related this to the idea that birthing a baby is one thing, but raising it to adulthood is another. In both cases, the former is relatively easy to do. The latter takes a marathon approach with plenty of blood, sweat, and tears!

It would take more than I care to write in this singular post (and more than you’d care to read!) to communicate the variety of skills necessary to adapt as founding “parents” to the changing needs that a fledgling startup experiences during its first few years of existence and growth. There is, however, one skill which I believe is crucial throughout the life of any organization, but is especially crucial during the first few years of life.

That skill is FOCUS.


Startup Entrepreneurs, Work Your Focus Muscles

For many startup entrepreneurs, focusing is not a natural exercise. Entrepreneurs tend to be people that generate more ideas in the time it takes to shower than most people generate in a year! They also tend to get really excited about those ideas, to the point of using up vital resources in pursuing “Alice in Wonderland” dreams.

Sound like you? Don’t worry; there’s hope. Focus isn’t a gift you have or don’t have; it’s a skill that can be acquired over time. Focus requires discipline and exercise, like the muscles in your bodies. The more you train your “focus muscle,” the more pointed your focus becomes.

If you are a founder of a startup, one of your most valued skills will be your ability to focus. It’s the ability to distinguish between the mediocre and the excellent, and between the fluff and the important stuff. Focus gives you the discipline to keep on track. Focus fights off the temptation to chase digital rabbits, create funky products with no market, or waste time making 5 different T-shirt designs.


Focus Requires Specificity

Focus has a close friend. His name is Specificity. In fact, Focus can’t do much without Specificity…without Specificity, Focus is but an abstract reaching for reality.

How do you remain focused? Be specific. Learn to enunciate and specify your primary targets and goals. Think this way, “What are the three most important things I need to achieve over the next 12 months in order to create long term success?”

Be as specific and targeted as you can. Then write those three things down. Put them on the refrigerator, on the mirror in the bathroom, paste them on your forehead if need be—just don’t forget them. Engage those goals, every single day.

Do the same exercise with your team. Ask your team this question, “What do YOU think the three most important goals are for the company to achieve sustainable results?”

Do a similar exercise with your mentor or coach. Share what your primary focus areas over the next 12 months are going to be. Then be quiet, and listen for his feedback.

Why is it important to identify and write down your top areas of focus for your company? It’s simple: without proper focus, entrepreneurs can FEEL like they are accomplishing great things when in actuality, they are not.

Let’s face it: as a startup entrepreneur you’re a ticking time bomb. You have limited time and resources to make this company take flight, or the timer expires and you lose everything. Without focus your startup is doomed to fail.

Without the discipline of focus, you and your team end up in a blizzard of activity that has no intrinsic value. You work incredibly hard on what will become a total failure. Delusion is a horrible trap to fall into. Focus keeps delusion at bay.


Steve Job’s Example of Fearless Focus

Let’s conclude with a little example of this: without a recovery of focus, Apple might have been nothing more than a piece of fruit to the average American.

When Steve Jobs stepped into the CEO position in the late 1990s, Apple had entirely lost its focus. It was chasing multitudes of ridiculous products that had little to no market value. Where would Apple be today if it had focused on watches instead of cell phones?

Jobs recognized this and eliminated all “digital rabbit chasing”. Only those products that were core to the company’s future would be allowed. All the rest, no matter how innovative or great they seemed, were thrown into the trash heap where they belonged.

What was the effect of Job’s fearless focus for Apple? He scaled Apple into the most valuable company on the planet, and consequently both Apple and Steve Jobs became household names in America.

Follow the example of Jobs, only start your company off with focus instead of trying to recapture it later when you’re on the brink of disaster. Focus your top goals to achieve sustainable success. Keep those primary goals as your main focus. Pursue them until you overtake them.

I guarantee you this: if you diligently pursue focus and specificity as a way of life for you and your team, you will change yourself, and you will go from startup to scale-up. You’ll build a sustainable company that will be a foundation stone to your legacy for the next generation. Who knows, you might even change the world!

I think that’s pretty cool. What say you?