When Is An Exception The Rule?

  • by , Featured Contributor, February 20, 2020

When it comes to maintaining focus, I live in the worst two worlds.

With the exception of just a few months, I’ve woken up every day of my past 25 years running a venture-funded tech start-up, where each and every conversation, meeting and market movement seems to hold the promise of unlocking even more unbounded opportunity. Everything is amazing.

Added to that, I am an eternal optimist. Everything is possible.

But when everything is both amazing and possible, it’s not always easy to maintain the focus necessary for running a good business.

Thankfully, venture capitalists exist.

Those who are really good at venture capital -- which is a far smaller number than those who claim the VC on their LinkedIn profiles and business cards -- tend to be very good at helping folks like me balance unbridled optimism with focus. And, if we’re lucky, our VCs teach us to become even more focused as markets take shape, orders grow, and our businesses take on real scale.



However, staying focused doesn’t have to mean repeating what worked yesterday, or even yesterday’s successful products. Building and growing companies in markets undergoing technology-born disruption is also a learning exercise that requires flexibility, rigor and unceasing attention to detail. Winning means realizing that you never stay the same, you’re always getting better -- or you’re getting worse.

The best formula for getting better is to test, learn and optimize, even if only in small amounts and small parts of your business. If your customers’ needs are evolving, so must your products. As Intuit founder Scott Cook always says, “Fall in love with your customers’ problems, not your products.”

You can’t test, learn and optimize without trying new things. Don’t let a maniacal focus on today prevent you from tomorrow’s growth. And yes, finding that balance is as much art as science.

Over the years, through three startups, I have also learned there is a delicate balance between discipline and innovation. Every time I think I have a new rule to help guide our way to the future, there are reasons to break it  -- or at least test it.

This is how you increase the fidelity of your focus: by constantly asking questions, challenging assumptions and staying willing to make changes as the market dictates.

How about you? Are you as focused -- and flexible -- as you need to be?

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