The absolute worst thing you can do as a founder or as a member of a startup’s management team is think you can do everything. Unless a founder and their team have relentless focus on doing one thing really well they will not get enough traction to be successful.
How does a founder or the management team go down this path of trying to do too many things?
Well, it is usually a mix of a few things but all stem from the ‘shiny things disease’. This is the theory around distractions that arise at startups that take away your focus on what’s important (i.e. a big cool splashy name company reaches out because they want to do something with you but it will make you spend the next two months building custom features and delay your big new product that will bring on 10x usage/users).
Maybe you tell yourself and your team that you don’t want to bet all your money on one horse or put your eggs in one basket. You rationalize that putting pieces of your team on a bunch of things rather than everyone on one thing will let you have more to show at the next board meeting or when raising your next fundraising you’ll be able to show multiple use cases.
But this mindset will sink you because you don’t have infinite developer resources or personnel to devote to focusing on multiple initiatives AND do them well.
So how do you avoid the feeling that you can do everything?
Focus on one thing and do that one thing really well! The good part of the “worst thing you can do as a founder” is that it is usually easily fixable. It might not feel good to cut off companies/partners/features to focus on one thing but it is very necessary.
At Aviary, Avi the founder became the king of focusing on one thing. But he (and the company) didn’t start off that way. When I joined Aviary they had a suite of web-based editing tools and a website called Worth1000 (for photoshop contests). The tools were great but they weren’t in-line with the future of mobile and on-the-go, lightweight tools (i.e. the suite was flash based and web only). Long story short, Avi (and the board) made the executive decision to focus on one thing and do it well. The team rallied around building a light-weight photo editing API for web and mobile and the suite of tools and photoshop contest website became secondary products. As the API began to gain traction the team slowly shut down the other products (even with a ton of users and usage). Flash-forward to this year and Worth1000 was sold off, Aviary heavy tools are, I believe, being worked on by a different team and Aviary the company and API have 75 million MAUs.
So as you can clearly see, it is very possible to right the ship even if you first struggle with the worst thing you can do as a founder.