Accidental Entrepreneur: How To Focus On The Real Work?
Welcome to my 45th weekly article as this week is called “How To Focus On The Real Work?”
In this article, I discuss some key concepts that can help individuals and teams prioritize the most high leverage activities to ultimately achieve long term success.
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“சொல்லுதல் யார்க்கும் எளிய அரியவாம்
சொல்லிய வண்ணம் செயல்” — திருக்குறள் (664)
“To say (how an act is to be performed) is (indeed) easy
for any one; but far difficult it is to do according to what
has been said.” — Thirukkural (664)
I decided to take a few weeks off from my weekly writings and “focus” on a few other projects as well as take time to reflect. I have written close to one hundred articles and wanted to understand the impact my writings have on others as well as the usefulness of these articles. I received many personal messages and comments asking me what happened to my articles as well as how it has helped them navigate through various situations. Thank you for those wonderful messages and appreciate the support from my circle of friends.
As I decided on the topic for his article, I reflected on many ideas related to execution and completion of projects for success of my entrepreneurial journey. One item kept coming back to my mind was FOCUS. Everyone who works at a startup claims that they are doing so much work and that they are very focused on executing the plan. While both statements “doing so much work” and “focused on executing those tasks” are possibly true statements, are they focused on the right work items is my question.
When smart people start working on things, they want everything to be perfect. In the real world, especially in startups, resources are limited, time is tight, resources are minimal and the opportunity window to prove oneself is very narrow.
Then how do you manage all these conflicting priorities and still produce something which customers would approve and pay money to buy?!
While I don’t have answer to all the problems, here are few learnings from my experiences to deal with this conundrum in life:
- Real Value: As we define a product during development and take it to market, there are some features which are core and then there are other items that are peripheral or nice to have. Identifying and differentiating between these two buckets is very important for the founders and executives. It is easy to get distracted by some cool features or technology which is not really relevant to the problem one is trying to solve.
- Real IP (Intellectual Property): As one defines the “real” value of the company and product, this comes from two angles. First one is the pain paint or market news and the second one is the key technology the company and founders are built on. Finding the real use of the intellectual property which differentiates you from others and solve the key customer problems would place oneself at greater advantage.
- Real Customer Need: Real customer need is a nuance point. It is not that difficult to find a general pain point for a product. Normally the customers would be working in that area or an adjacent area. When discussing with customers, they would discuss their market needs and customer issues in general terms. How do you extract the “real” problem versus all other perceived issues and not get distracted with those unnecessary words. This can be accomplished by first listening and listening well, then asking follow up probing questions. People are so keen on selling their own ideas and forget to listen. I have written about this in one of my earlier articles.
- Real Customer Use Case: During the development of a product, there will be a need for trade offs due to schedule, resource or other issues. Clearly understanding the customer use case helps with navigating the resource challenges most of the time. By knowing how the customers would use the product or a particular feature, it’s easier to make trade offs as well as justify the trade offs to the customers. I remember “educating” customers on why a feature is important and other features are not by walking them through their end customer experiences. While it helps us reach the product milestones, it also helps build confidence with the customers to create goodwill. That is done by understanding the various use cases and customer empathy when building products.
- Real Team Capabilities: As a founder or product manager it’s easier to give into customer demands to satisfy their requests. Normally the successful companies are those that built and delivered a product, not the promise at the beginning. Knowing the capabilities of the team and considering all the activities on the team members’ plates will help set the right expectations in order to deliver high quality products.
- Reality (Ego vs Practicality): I have been blessed to work with very smart people as well as practical people. Some of them will have big egos and attitudes which could become detrimental to the team. I remember a quote that “A team is as strong as the weakest person in the team”. Understanding the team’s capabilities and what the team can deliver practically, the team can avoid falling into the “ego” trap of the strongest person in the team. While it is good to strive to do the best, getting things done within budget and timeline and continuing to improve over the time would help companies stay afloat and acquire customers.
I focused this article on how to navigate the world where conflicting priorities are fighting for one’s attention while delivering high quality products solves customer’s real pain points. It comes down to a few key factors for me which are customer knowledge, your core IP, your team and managing the resources according to the “real” priorities. It sounds simple, but difficult to execute. These kinds of critical decision making processes and capabilities are the ones that differentiate successful people and everyone else. It is not that one in ten startup companies succeeds just by luck, rather by understanding the “real” problems and executing with laser focus and resolve/intention to get to the mountain top.