Not all good opportunities are good to take

Last year, I was seriously busy, as busy as anybody who tries to run a business with thousands of customers/users while having a full time job. (Having actual users is really an important factor in one’s busy-ness, because if you don’t have any users you can work at your own pace without anybody’s expectations to fulfil)

As a newborn entrepreneur, I was excited by all the opportunities that were presented to me (like a baby basically). The opportunities seemed so good in terms of learning experience that I couldn’t let them pass (or so I thought).

I was seeing a lot of opportunities (a good thing) and I was taking them all (a bad thing). On top of more stress due to more work, I lacked the time and creative energy to go into details in what I was doing. Most of the projects I worked on during that period of three months didn’t have half the quality they deserved which of course added to the overall stress.

Remember this: the most constraining factors in an opportunity/commitment/project are the social commitments that come with it. The fact that a personal experiment fails or is delayed is no big deal, the fact that someone relies on a deadline and quality that you can influence is different.

Example of opportunities that I should have delayed

On top of having to update and maintain the existing products of the company, my partner and I saw a new potential project that we started working on (a poker game for the French market)

A few weeks after we started the project one of the people I respect immensely contacted me to work on a common project. “Wow! my potential mentor is asking me to work with him! I will learn so much thanks to that!”

Almost in parallel, another potential mentor asked me if I was interested to join his project. “Wow! I will learn so much!”

Well… yes I have learned a lot but probably not what I expected. I accepted both propositions and fast forward, I failed in delivering properly both projects and our own. One project was delayed and the quality of code has been questioned (and my reputation) and on the other project we didn’t get the traction we hoped (it should have worked, the model had been proven but the execution lacked attention to details).

The lesson

You probably have heard it before and this is not rocket science: focus, focus and focus a little more.

My creative energy was spread over too many projects and I couldn’t complete them the way I should have. The excitement of the opportunities blurred my judgement.

I don’t have to say yes to every opportunity.

Also I may not have to say no either maybe I can simply delay them until my current project is completed. An honest refusal is probably better than an overcommitted yes on the long run (for both parties).

When is lack of focus a good thing?

Today, I still remember the bitter lesson and try to stay focused on only one major project, CoachFire. But I believe there are circumstances where not focusing is a better strategy.

For example, diversification. Although you probably think of financial portfolio when I mention diversification, there are other areas where diversification is desirable.

In the web startup industry, failure is more probable than success, it is a fact.

So how does one find the golden idea? Trying a wide range of different ideas and see which ones get momentum looks like a viable option to me.

But even during these experiments, it is important to keep focused on the one high level objective of these experiments, that is to find and keep only the ideas that showed potential during the experiments.

As easy it may sound, I assure you it is not easy to stop tweaking a little project when you have users contacting you to fix something or add something, it has to be a conscious effort to focus on the overall goal.

Anyway, although I have written this experience as a lesson, I don’t expect anyone to actually learn the lesson by reading my article. You have to feel the pain to internalize the lesson.

What do you think? When is focus a good thing and when is diversification a good thing?