Working with hundreds of startups, various patterns eventually become obvious. One common pattern is wrapped around the common refrain of mentors to entrepreneurs, “focus“. The actual pattern is a bit more complex. It goes like this:
1. You have an idea. It may feel fully formed, but it’s half-baked. You know enough about the problem and just enough about the customers to come up with a potential solution. You get excited. You dream of starting a startup to tackle this problem.
2. You start talking to potential customers, start digging into the problem, and with that the possibilities seem to grow and grow and the potential seems to grow with it.
3. At this point, if you are talking to enough experienced mentors and/or investors, the advice they keep telling you is “focus”, as in you are trying to do too much at once, if not trying to “boil the ocean“.
4- You eventually listen to them, pick a path, create an MVP, launch, and start learning. That learning brings forth ideas for pivots, ideas for a grander solution, ideas for new customer segments, and potentially ideas for second products. The phase is a lot like #2, except now you have customers you need to serve.
5- Depending on how well that first product is doing, its time to either put most of those ideas on a shelf and double down on focus, or pivot to a better idea, or find more capital to allow you to take on one of the new ideas.
The pattern here is cyclic. You go through a phase where ideas and opportunities abound. You then focus, put the unused ideas away for now, and execute. Sometime later new ideas and opportunities abound again. Rinse and repeat.
You can see this pattern in the most successful company to-date, Apple. Apple ][ (focus), Apple III and Lisa (new ideas that failed), Mac (focus), Pippin and Newton (new ideas that failed), iPod and iMac (big enough to focus on two products), iPad (third product), iPhone (fourth product). What we can’t see from Apple are the hundreds of other ideas that never made it to market.