One Solid Line Of Focus

In the past, I’ve tried to start two things as a founder. They did OK. One was a services business, so not optimal. But, it was hard. The other was a life sciences company, where I was lucky but also way out of my league. During those times, I had to focus on and immerse myself within a narrow scope of work. This is usually hard for me because I have eclectic interests, so for something to capture my attention, there has to be depth within that narrowness in order to keep my head in the game. This is why, more recently in the Valley, I’ve enjoyed bouncing a round a bit and tend to view the market like an investor would — not how a founder would.

I’m writing this because I’m working with a small handful of founders now who make it starkly clear that they are absolutely focused in their work. Now, a lot of founders will posture this way and pat themselves on the back because of their long hours or their responsiveness to email. But, “always being on” and always in the office doesn’t not necessarily mean absolutely focused. The founders I’m talking about literally don’t spend any mental time on anything but their company and product, aside from commuting, eating, sleeping, and spending time with their family. This may appear unhealthy, but I think in their cases, they’re perfectly happy with this imbalance.

Reflecting a bit, I believe this is what it takes to build a business around a product. Each of the founders has raised significant rounds of funding and proven themselves on the product side. Now, when they take funding, the stakes are bigger, the time horizon compresses, and the pressure increases. My very close friend, Gautam Gupta, left the VC world to start NatureBox, and I never see him anymore. Or, for instance, I don’t work with Kaggle, but look at the profile of founder Anthony Goldbloom – his bio page shows a hilarious bar graph of how he’s spent his time during blocks of his life. For the past three years, there’s one solid line to account for his work on Kaggle. While Goldbloom is the real deal, it’s easy for some founders to posture this publicly, but reality will rear its head eventually, because it’s one thing for a founder to convince themselves to focus, and it’s entirely another thing for a founder to be possessed by it.

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2014 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus