Vision Does Not Equal Focus
Founders need both an inspiring vision and a focused go-to-market strategy that drives growth.
Let’s do an experiment. Well not really an experiment, because I know the outcome, but it feels like an experiment.
- Stretch out your arm in front of you and point your index finger up
- Focus your vision on the tip of your finger, are you seeing a sharp image
- Now, without changing your distant focus, bring your index finger closer to your face at about 10 cm away from your eyes.
- Are you still seeing a sharp image?
For your eyes to alternate between near and distant focus it requires the muscles in your eyes to work. This process is called Accommodation. When viewing a far object, The muscles in your eyes relax, but when you are viewing an object up close the muscles in your eye contract. In other words it’s easy to focus on something that is far away but it requires a lot of work to focus on something that is close to you.
This analogy also describes why you as a founder need both an inspiring and aspirational vision as well as a focused go-to-market strategy that drives growth.
Your vision defines where you want to go. It is bold and aspirational. But if you want to get there what matters is your go-to-market strategy. Your go-to-market strategy is the focus you and your team need to make progress. The thing you will focus on in the very beginning.
Google started by indexing just one website!
Take for example a company like Google. Their mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”. Ever since the founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin first rolled out the search engine, back in 1996, this was their long term vision. Today Google has indexed, organised and made available a large number of sources of information. Maps, News, Academic articles, images, video’s, your email, documents, patents, and the list goes on and on. More and more it is becoming an omnipresent source for information.
But the first version of their search engine was very, very different from what google is today. Today if you type in a query on google search it searches an index of almost all information published on the web. But the Google web crawler began exploring a single website in March 1996, the Stanford home page. That website was serving as the only starting point. So the only index that was available at the start was the Stanford website.
Over time as the crawler explored more of the internet the value for people outside of academia started to grow and the company had to think of a commercial business model. This is when Google was officially founded as a company in 1998.
Google is a perfect example of big vision, narrow focus to kickstart growth. Google started with a very narrow focus and as they learned more they were able to grow their business. Today in 2020 Google has added other products that all fit the vision but to this day they are not even close to accomplishing the mission of organising all information and making it universally accessible.
If you look at successful businesses they all have a history of what we call focused growth. They all started with a very specific Focus: Inch wide, Mile deep!
Focused growth strategy
So how do you use a focused growth strategy to grow your business? Focused growth is a 3 step itterative process to help companies use focus to make progress towards achieving their vision.
The more specific your focus, the easier your choices get as to where to prioritise your attention in order to make progress. Taking company’s mission and vision into account is a key determining your focus but there are several other variables that matter.
And as for the level of specificity we always say inch wide, mile deep. You have to pick an extremely specific niche (Inch wide) and then put all your attention towards understanding that niche (Mile deep).
So how do you determine your focus? The business model canvas is a handy tool that can be used for founders to determine their focus. First you can use the left side of the canvas to identify your constraints:
- What key resources do you have at this time?
People with the Founder Mentality start with what they have. They will look at who they are, what they know, who they know and who is in their team.
- What key activities can you develop with the resources you have without going crazy?
There are only 7 days in a week and 24 hours in a day. We know that people with the founder mentality can’t rest once they have identified a problem or opportunity but you have to take care of your health as well.
- Do you have partners that can push you forward?
People with the founder mentality form partnerships with people or organisations to leverage their assets.
- What is an affordable loss for you?
People with the founder mentality evaluate opportunities based on whether the downside is acceptable, rather than on the attractiveness of the predicted upside.
Taking into account the constraints you have identified on the left side of the business model canvas you can use the right side to determine your focus:
The goal on the right side to find the Smallest Addressable Market (SAM) for your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) where you still take into account your company’s mission and vision. We call this the Minimal Viable Market or MVM.
Your MVM can be based on locality. Take for example a company like AirBnB. They started with a value proposition specifically for tourists visiting the city of San Francisco during the Industrial Design Conference when travelers had a hard time finding lodging in the city. They grew the company by slowly adding cities rather than going global from the start.
Your MVM can be based on a defining characteristic. Whereas AirBnB targets all travelers another company called MisterBnB has a similar business model but targets LGBTQ travelers. This defining characteristic is a small enough niche for them to grow.
Your MVM can be based on Big Money First. Tesla’s Elon Musk famously wrote his master plan using this strategy. The master plan is:
Build sports car
Use that money to build an affordable car
Use that money to build an even more affordable car
While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options
Don’t tell anyone.
The same strategy is now commonplace in for example space travel startups whereas they sell expensive tickets to space tourists to fund the space innovations they are working on.
Your MVM can be event based. There are a lot of events around the world that cater to groups of first movers. A company can take advantage of that event and launch their product there. SXSW is a great example of an event that hosts a number of successful product launches. Foursquare is one of the most well-known SXSW launches.
“We started building Foursquare in late 2008, but we really kicked things into gear in early 2009 so we’d have something ready to launch at SXSW — it gave us a deadline to shoot for,” — Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder Foursquare
And there are many more ways to make your go-to-market strategy specific and focused. Keep asking yourself can we make it more specific while keeping it viable.
If you have picked the right go to market strategy with a product/market and strong execution your company will grow. If you have a strong focus you will find that the choices you have to make in order to grow your business become easier. Every part of your operating model is geared towards that singular focus. Your Objectives, KPI’s, Initiatives, Communications and Automations all become geared towards your goal.
Growth will create two things; discomfort and additional resources. Both require you to take a step back and evaluate your next step. There is no growth without discomfort as illustrated with the following video:
As you grow you might find that you don’t have enough time to finish the work, not enough money to hire people, not enough people in your market to grow further. In other words like the story with the lobster growth hurts.
But growth will also give you additional resources on the left side of the Businessmodel canvas allowing you to expand on the right. Maybe you have enough revenue to hire a marketeer, maybe you have enough users to attract a VC, maybe you have identified signals that show that your product is desired in another market.
What matters is that you need to take time to reflect before you take the next step. This time to reflect matters. We would suggest you find a comfortable rock to sit under as you prepare to expand your focus!