008. 5 Do’s & 5 Don’ts on Staying Focused for your startup
In this episode Thanasis and Dimitri talk about how to stay focused.
Thanasis [00.00.05]: Are you an entrepreneur, a designer, a developer, never before has it been easier to get your new venture off the ground. Whether you’re just getting started or have already begun your journey, you’ve come to the right place. In each episode we will dive into a new challenge breaking it down into simple, digestible terms. I’m Thanasis…
Dimitri [00.00.22]: …And I’m Dimitri.
Thanasis [00.00.24]: And you’re listening to Listen-Ship-Repeat, and in this episode we talk about 5 dos and 5 don’ts on staying focused for your startup, this is episode No.8
Thanasis [00.00.33]: So, Happy New Year Dimitri!
Dimitri [00.00.36]: Happy New Year, Happy New Year! First episode of the year, we are gonna get back into the swing of things now. And any news would you like to share? We haven’t had an episode in a couple of weeks.
Thanasis[00.00.50]: Right, well a lot of things happened, mostly vacation, some downtown time, family time, resting, that sort of thing. What about you?
Dimitri [00.01.19]: I was about to ask you if you have a new year’s resolution. I am actually a bit happy for last year, I think I’ll be doing a bit of more open source this year, last year was more sharing my thoughts to the internet, more blogging, more learning staff. So, this year I will keep it simple to see what I can share with the rest of the world in terms of my new year’s resolution.
Thanasis[00.01:57]: Share and contribute, what is the state of open source for IOS development?
Dimitri [00.02:01]: Oh, it’s nuts, it’s a lot of staff going on that it’s really thriving. Independency, management system that they have. There are thousands of repos there that you can add to your own project and does really takes care of a lot of work for you and it’s quite easy to contribute to get up and running.
Thanasis [00.02:18]: Right, I find this to be a good excuse when I am too busy with my work, it’s a good excuse for me to go back to open source and contribute, out of the libraries that I am using and the bags that I find or features that I want. I straight up go to the REPO and submit a request with what I need.
Dimitri [00.02:41]: Yeah, it’s easy to get started. I always can look at some of the staff that I have written and just copy paste things and submit them.
Thanasis [00.02:51]: Right, Right!
Dimitri [00.02:53]: If you really want to spend time to do something new. So, what we are talking about this morning?
Thanasis [00.02:57]: So, today we are talking about staying focused for your startup and we have 5 dos and 5 don’ts, but before we get into that, why would you wanna be focused, Dimitri?
Dmitri [00.03.12]: Let’s take the other way round, if you are not focused to your vision, to your goal and you jumping back and forth from one idea to the other, maybe even from one business model to the other, that can prevent your startup from thriving and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that supports that, and it’s rather good practice to have in your long term. I was like to use this very simple like a lighthouse analogy, for example let’s say that you are on a ship, its dark, its night and you can see that light house in the background and doesn’t matter if zig-zag around or take the long way around as long as you make it to the lighthouse. So, this analogy can say that you stay focused to the bigger picture, to your long term goals.
Thanasis [00.04:28]: Right, right! Well, somebody could equally say that being chaotic is what their advantage is, it’s how they operate and jumping from one thing to another, but I think this is an issue of resources , when you staring up you have so limited resources, I mean it’s really crazy the amount of resources that you have compared to the established businesses and you are holding a wooden stick, and how you will hold that stick is going to make all the difference. You know, you are going to spread all that limited energy around and accomplish nothing and that’s basically the problem here, the message we are trying to convey. So, lets get right into the don’ts. One of the first don’ts is do not pursue every single idea that pops into your mind or you see happening in another entity. So, for instance, when you are building up your MVP and you haven’t released anything yet, this is one of the most classic mistakes founders do to crum and include as many features possible into the product before releasing and that builds up higher expectations and it also keeps you out from the feedback loop that would you get way earlier if you had shipped a single thing versus trying to band together 10 different things that might not work well together, that they are half baked and ship them altogether at one extravagant moment that on the existing your mind is how big that event is, while all the rest of the world just says ‘Ok, one more product goes the line’.
Dimitri [00.06:45]: Another one I try to keep in mind is having a parallel between focus and features and basically, just not copy every single feature you see from your competitors in the space that you are operating in, or even the bigger players in the space you are operating, in case you try to solve a problem better than what people are doing already out there. As a non technical fund for example, it would be great if you can slow build experience from your daily interactions with the development team with your tech team in order to be able to judge the length and resource required for new features. So, obviously, on the daily basis just come up with ideas and put them in there. For example, just be mindful how long some of the stuff takes even though it might seem simple. So we talked about this, Thanasis before that, we can do that stuff. For example, you are making a chat app and you are trying to disrupt that space, are you building a jackpot or something, you might want to add ‘typing now’ for the person you are talking to, and remember that you didn’t come for that in your planning because it didn’t seem a good idea at that time. That’s a huge thing for example, because it requires a lot of staff on the client side, maybe are doing some sort of socket implementation and you have to do that on the back end. It’s a much larger task than what it seems even though is very simple to the user. Keep that in mind!
Thanasis [00.08:45]: Right, yeah! I mean copying the big boys is one of the worst things that you can do. I have heard so many times ‘Facebook does this, Facebook does that’, I mean this is facebook scale, we are not Facebook scale, right?
Dimitri [00.08:50]: But hopefully, we wish that we will be that one day!
Thanasis [00.09.00]: And when you become Facebook feel free to go crazy!
Dimitri [00.09.05]: And the ‘typing now’ in there!
Thanasis [00.09.06]: Now, those two don’ts, the don’t for do not pursue every single idea and try not to copy the big boys, those are very interrelated and they are one of the most important points so that you would stay focused. We discussed about the MVP, but further down the road after your launch, after your MVP and especially if you are in the SAS business, it’s a very good practice to not implement anything unless your customers are asking for it. You know, if you are in the SAS business and you have customers, then definitely you have some incoming requests, which you can prioritize and reshuffle along maybe with your own ideas into issues, you know, directions you want to take the product to and put them all inside a form and give them back to the customers and let them tell their opinion, which features they believe are going to provide them with the most value first. So, that also applies to the consumer products, it’s just the way that you are gonna have to take the feedback that is different.
Dimitri [00.10.27]: Do you like quote blindly at what customer asks for?
Thanasis [00.10.37]: No, No, I didn’t say blindly, I said prioritize.
Dimitri [00.10.42]: Yeah, you are right, because it kindly reminds me those old simpsons episode from the very old days, it was hide by these car companies that build the best cars because he was every man, what features he wanted in the car would translate to what the average consumer wanted in America, so in the end he built his metro city and the company run out of business cause it cost half million dollars or something. There’s a skill I think involved, that comes with experience into translating what a customer asks for.
Thanasis [00.11.18]: That comes with the job, I mean you are sitting on the cockpit of the company, right? You are getting every feedback it leads back to you, comes to you! So, you have the complete picture. I mean that this is definitely a don’t!! Don’t do every single thing that your customers do!!
Dimitri [00.11.43]: So, having a startup isn’t the easiest thing in the world, people like the challenge and they jump into it. So, I think maybe that the tough times are better than the good times, but obviously the good times are very worrying. So, any thoughts on that?
Thanasis [00.11.58]: So, bad times is the norm, you start a company by having a bad time and you are keep going having bad times until you accomplish.
Dimitri [00.12.13]: Probably, quote bad times.
Thanasis [00.12.23]: Yeah, you are having a bad time in the term that things are not going your way. However, you are excited, you are pumped, but what you do, you have a vision and you move forward and that’s what families do. However, the situation around you isn’t the most ideal and sometimes things can get even tougher than what they normally are. You are getting some rejections, one after the other, your product doesn’t have the expected traction, the expected revenue. So, when you find yourself in those tough spots, one advice that we have to give you is not to overreact. A very safe example is driving and something pops up in front of your wheels and you have limited choices. You can either avoid it, you can slam the brakes to avoid the obstacle, but if you overreact, if you turn the wheel further ahead that it needs to turn, you are gonna spin around and lose control of the car. It’s the same exact deal with your company. If you lose your sight, if you lose your vision due to the bad circumstances and you feel like you have your last cards to play, making radical decisions really will not help you. It’s like how a drawing man or woman hit their hands in the sea trying to save themselves but all they basically do is exhaust themselves and eventually drawn.
Dimitri [00.14.09]: So, don’t just do all them! Accept them!
Thanasis [00.14.15]: Accept them! Embrace them! After 5 years no matter if the company succeeded or failed those are going to be the moments that you remember and you are going to feel proudest the most. So, don’t screw it up, don’t overreact, don’t move the lever all the way to the edge. Small moves, calculated moves and no worries, you are going next with confidence.
Dimitri [00.14.54]: Moving on, I think. Limited resources, probably small team in the early stages, don’t spread your team thin. You have listed your goals, they are prioritized. So, you have put everything together, you have laid it down, you have pretty much have an idea of how long is going to take and you have done the keeping in mind the real capacity and the scope of your team and the resources that are viable to you. And just to be mindful of that, each major change cause correction, cost time, money, readjustment and it might make you lose focus. So, don’t spread your team!
Thanasis [00.16.16]: Spreading your team thin on the one hand is about the tasks that you assign to your team to accomplish, so they can be all over the place and that’s bad. The other part of spreading your team theme is constantly interrupting them and doing that through manufactured events or things that you believe that are important, doing constant meetings with engineers and every single interruption on an Engineer is going to cost them 30-40 to rewind and reload everything up in their memory, on their head, is to what they are working on. So, be very mindful of those interruptions.
Dimitri [00.17:02]: Moving away from the more traditional definition of ‘focus’. This has to do more like with the space you operating in. It will be better considering your size in the beginning and depending on what kind of metric you have to focus on a specific segment of the market. A demographic example will be, ‘don’t focus on the tidy of China or Europe’, but basically with a segment that H groups, preferences and other attributes and parameters, not just like blank an entire geographic area. So focus on a specific segment!
Thanasis [00.17.52]: Yeah, that’s right! And an example that most of our listeners can relate to, Facebook. Facebook didn’t start as a social platform, it started us a University year book kind of thing that the students would stay in touch with each other and it started from a single University. And of course, that’s not what Mark Zuckerberg had in mind when he did that. He just understood that in order to reach up to a higher floor, you need to start walking from the first floor.
Dimitri [00.18.38]: Yeah, really good move, and it was successful with the University first!
Thanasis [00.18.46]: Absolutely! Now let’s reach our last don’t. Our last don’t is do not pivot. Don’t pivot unless .. What are those unless Dimitri?
Dmitri [00.18.57]: Pivoting in tradition means just turn around to do a 180 and push, if you feel confident about yourself you might as well do it, but as a concept if you get to that point think about a very strongly. An argument for that would be, let’s say you’re funded and you have your investors, so you have a presentation for them, or two or three. They trusted you, they funded you..
Thanasis [00.19.37]: They gave you money!
Dimitri [00.19.41]: Exactly! And now you are turning around. So, it’s actually more complicated than just simply pivoting. And you know, If you are bootstrapped, if you have one angel maybe it’s not the case in that point, and maybe you just want to stop and try something different. So, that’s what the unless part comes in, but in general if you are going towards your vision, towards your focus pivoting will change that, so just be very careful or just careful! Don’t overdramatize it, but pivoting means a large tectonic shift.
Thanasis [00.20.22]: Yeah, definitely! And your investors might also be your very best counselors, supposedly you have picked them because of their expertise in your specific market domain of area and sharing with them your thoughts, putting them into the discussion, especially if they have specific domain expertise and they are just not throwing out money, then not only do you just need to inform them, you need to put inside the conversation of that pivot. Now, in terms of pivoting you shouldn’t do it. We say you shouldn’t do it if you do not have sufficient data and knowledge gathered from your past experience, your current run. You have been operating for some time now and you try something and that something, didn’t work. Do you know why didn’t work? Have you collected sufficient data from the users, the customers that you understand what exactly is wrong? And unless you know that you cannot really know what’s the next step or your pivot, right? You are pivoting towards a new direction. So, how do you come to choose that new direction? Is it out of your simple mind and idea or does it come out of feedback? Those are completely two different things, but you basically need to do is exclude your mind out of the equation, doesn’t matter what you think, your assumptions are quite dangerous for your business because they are assumptions and need to be tested before you take a new direction. So, don’t pivot unless you are certain of the new direction you want to take and why you want to take it. The why comes out of the data.
Dimitri [00.22.40]: You can see it a reset button. So, basically when you pivot you start something new.
Thanasis [00.22.51]: Exactly! And it’s all of that effort that you need to put forward, that you should consider really hard.
Dimitri [00.23.00]: So, we will recap all these at the end. By no means it isn’t an exhaustive list but based on the chat we had before the show it will cover most stuff that people come into..
Thanasis [00.23.17]: Let’s get into the dos now Dimitri..
Dimitri [00.23.23]: Yeah, let’s begin with the running theme of you know, have a clearly defined vision, a set of goals, road map and objectives. So, you have that and make sure that is always communicated to your team or teams, if you have successful and made it out of the great filter that is the smallest startup if you’ve scaled and in terms of defined task stories, timelines and sticking to them I would like to say that, so there is the 2nd episode we can put in the show notes, if you are experienced enough and you have done this before you are probably familiar with defining a road map and a set of tasks in choosing those, otherwise, feel free to go and listen to the episode and we should put in the show notes. So, enough said on that from my point of view, is there something you want to add?
Thanasis [00.24.32]: Oh, not much! Just don’t want us to be heard as people suggesting that you should have a shorted plan and following it no matter what. That’s not what we are saying. What we are saying is that your current today’s road map and objectives need to be communicated properly. I mean the vision doesn’t change, goals might change less often, the roadmap changes even more often than the goals. Roadmap is what we are going to build within the next one, two, three, six months depending on the size of the company and the momentum it has. So, why we preach so many times that you need to have a roadmap, that doesn’t mean that you need to follow it 100%, right? But the thing is that the moment you decide to change it you need to let the whole team know. That’s what we are saying here.
Dimitri [00.25.39]: So, more on the operational side is what’s coming up next. Small startup, very small team, a good practice you could adopt. Let’s say if anything we discuss is optional maybe this one it falls into that, but I have seen good results on these in the past. Push very hard for short period of time, try new stuff experiment, throw a couple of spaghetti to the wall and see which ones didn’t fell on the ground and when you’ve got all the info based on that have a long period of where you capitalize, where you reflect what you have done and built something more meaningful. The analogies that come to mind are push and pull, breathe in, breathe out, wax in, wax out, that kind of stuff, I can go on forever, but I think I’ve got what point to cross.
Thanasis [00.26.44]: Yeah, the way I see that is that I had many experiences with founders that pushed the pedal to the metal constantly for long and long periods of time. And long period of time is like more than a month, two months, three months, four months, five months and that was..
Dimitri [00.27.17]: Actually, good point! Sorry, have you finished your thought?
Thanasis [00.27.22]: Yeah, I can continue later, what were you thinking?
Dimitri [00.27.26]: What’s like a rule of thumb of these periods? Two months of hardcore crunch time? Is that sustainable over a long term? So, for your experience what number can you put on push and pull days?
Thanasis [00.27.41]: Again depends on the goal and the achievement, right? If we are SpaceX and we are going to Mars and we have a launch to Mars in 3 months, I mean three months we are going to grind, but if you are in a standard tactical, which is your normal and especially for developers, engineers, I think that up to two months it’s safe to sustain pressure and demand for more and applying pressure and demanding for more actually translates into the engineers having to do more hours, right? They typically work 30 to 40 hours, when you press them they work 50 to 60 hours and the dangers here of keeping the padal pressed is twofold. The first one is that after a while there is going to be some fatigue building up and that will not allow you to move faster when you actually need to move faster, a very specific point in time into your company. That’s problem number one. And problem number two, of course is that you are going to burn out your people and that has a result either that they might get sick more often or their efficiency might drop 50%-60%, they will just simply not be able to operate, following instructions, commands and ultimately they might go, I mean that’s not a healthy environment to work on. It’s a 100% toxic and you wouldn’t want to work there. So, that’s why you need to have the periods where you press and the periods where you sit back and digest, reflect on what has happened and decide on to your next step. Right, I think we covered that. Now, next do is to find the path of least resistance and I found that to be applicable in many cases when starting up because when you start up you really don’t know which is which, north or south and understanding, you are going to try all sorts of different things and you are going to see that one of those things that you tried works a little bit better than all of the others in order to do that you will need of course keep some records, tracking or pay very close attention of what is going on. And the moment that you observe that difference, double done on it, nail it down and this is going to be your next step forward. And each step you take you redo that process and in effect you find your path of least resistance.
Dimitri [00.31.11]: Just one thing to add. Maybe you do know north from south cause maybe your previous attempt failed and you are on your next startup already so…
Thanasis [00.31.20]: Not sure about that! I had so many..
Dimitri [00.31.23]: You want to know what went wrong last time, if you really wanna say the same space, solve the same problem or maybe can take completely different approach.
Thanasis [00.31.31]: I disagree Dimitri with that. I had so many fails in my lifetime, right? Especially the very first ones didn’t help me with the second ones. It’s only after 5 or 10 major venture fails that I started to get better understanding of what’s going on. And that was mostly because of the environment. But that’s a discussion for another time. Let’s stay focused like the episode says. So, the next do is to figure out the problem that you are solving and double down on it and this sounds of course very self explanatory and obvious as you hear it, but it’s not really what is going on in reality because in reality you are going to get side steps sidelined by the glitterati of what you are trying to accomplish and one very feeding example I found this to happen again and again is through the pervasiveness of WebRTC technologies after it had its boom and I find companies paying so much attention on WebRTC, the technology, versus their business model and their customers that is surprising. They dedicate so much resources onto a single technology versus focusing on their business model and understanding that WebRTC is just one of the means of getting their business, you know, accomplished, established, successful and this is very important thing to keep in mind. I mean technologies and especially for engineering, for founders that come from an engineering background building stuff is what they love the most and they do that in the expense of moving the business forward. The last do is to create a sustainable rhythm and flow. That also relates to the push and pull that we have already said, but this is a little bit different. When you are a team and let’s talk about a small team because in a wider scale that’s a different although kind of the same. So, you have a team of 5 people and you are the sixth person there, you work every day together, you are the six people that all six of you face, face as I have in front of you and talking to you, most of the time during the day even more than your family and the kind of tone and rhythm that you give to the team is what is going to be followed and unless you are aware of that you need to do that, then there will simply be no rhythm, it would be just up and downs, random spikes, whatever.
Dimitri [00.35.14]: Maybe there is a culture issue to take into account.
Thanasis [00.35.17]: Company culture comes if that kind of rhythm and flow comes through a procedural text book, that kind of puts you in a cast, you know? Definitely, yes! But when you starting up it’s really up to you, you are the founder, you have play number 1, number 2, number 3, I mean you are a small team. It’s your job, as a founder, to provide a rhythm that is healthy and people can tune into and that way basically you then have better productivity results.
Dimitri [00.36.11]: That’s what it really comes down to, productivity brings you closer to your goal in a proper manner.
Thanasis [00.36.21]: Right! You are nothing less than the orchestra conductor, the maestro, right? Everybody is looking up to you, so all of the things of management really aggregate here, lead by example, lead the way. You understand what I am trying to say right?
Dimitri [00.36.45]: Absolutely! Orchestra conductor it’s a really nice analogy, you got a little stick, you point it to people, you actually literally giving them a rhythm and they beautiful violinists players but when they begin, when they end and how fast it depends on you, the conductor.
Thanasis [00.37.09]: So, that wraps us up for today, let’s do a small recap on the five don’ts.
Don’t pursue every single idea. Don’t overreact when the times are tough. Don’t spread your team theme. Don’t focus on the entirety of the market. Focus on a specific segment. Do not pivot unless you are certain of where you want to go. Now, lets see the 5 dos. Have clearly defined vision, set your goals, objectives, roadmap. Apply push and pull tactic rhythm, don’t always push. If you push constantly you are going to burn out your team. Find the path of least resistance. Figure out the problem you are trying to solve and double done on it. Create and sustain a rhythm and flow. That was it, we made it Dimitri!
Dimitri [00.38.34]: We made it! Nice list, we hope that you find it helpful and that’s that, 5 don’ts and 5 dos
Thanasis [00.38.48]: Yeah, awesome! Now if you have any questions send them to ask by calling at 8663705050 and you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, subscribe on iTunes by searching for our podcast, feel free to go in there and drop us some stars or a review if you want, this helps us climb up higher in our respective categories and helps us make more episodes. Our website www.listenshiprepeat.com and you can also find our transcripts there. So until next time, thank you for listening tonight and from both of us, Goodbye!
Dimitri [00.39.45]: Ciao! Bye, bye!