In the neon-lit glory of the 1990s, the dawn of the internet era, I took my first steps into the world of entrepreneurship.
A period defined by the dot-com bubble, the era was rife with nascent technologies, untapped potential and a burgeoning belief that technology was an alchemical touch transforming everything into gold.
This was a time before LinkedIn, before Crunchbase, before we had the ability to simply Google anything we wished to know.
The pulse of the startup ecosystem thrived in industry events, the crisp pages of newspapers, and the burgeoning emergence of online blogs and magazines.
Embarking on my first entrepreneurial journey, where I aimed to build a fast-growing ecommerce startup, I threw myself into this buzzing world, becoming an enthusiastic participant in this whirlwind of activity.
I travelled, networked, read extensively, and absorbed every scrap of information I could lay my hands on. My days were a flurry of keynotes, panel discussions and hushed, hurried conversations about the latest trends in technology. I met people, bright minds who exuded innovation and creativity, people who introduced me to new concepts, challenged my preconceived notions and inspired me to effect change.
The constant hum of ideas, the ceaseless flow of inspiration was intoxicating. Yet, beneath this vibrant veneer of entrepreneurial life, I was slowly drifting off course.
The more I dug into this bustling world, the more I realised I was using these activities as a smokescreen, an excuse to evade the gritty, tough reality of startup life. The whirlwind of networking, the constant influx of new information, the seemingly endless possibilities – these became distractions that veiled my reluctance to confront the challenging aspects of my venture. Instead of propelling my startup towards key milestones, I was lost in a sea of distractions.
Reflecting on my own missteps and the lessons I’ve learned along the way, I am reminded of a Harvard Business Review piece from 2019 aptly titled, 10 Quick Tips for Avoiding Distractions at Work.
This piece offers valuable advice, particularly when contextualised in the startup realm:
Set clear goals and prioritise
As a first-time founder my entrepreneurial vision was clouded by a lack of precise objectives.
Critical milestones like product-market fit, favourable unit economics, and execution capacity were relegated to the backseat.
Decline unnecessary meetings
Looking back, I see the allure of the chance meeting with a tech legend, the potential investor encounter, the industry guru catch-up, was often just that – an allure.
These meetings seldom contributed to the actual progression of my startup and, more often than not, were distractions masquerading as opportunities.
Allocate time wisely
Time is the ultimate non-renewable resource, a truth I learned the hard way.
While I was squandering time at countless networking events, I could have dedicated blocks to product development, team coordination and a chosen few high-impact meetups.
Turn off push notifications
It’s easy to get caught in the maelstrom of never-ending news updates, emails and Slack messages.
By focusing on my startup’s needs above the relentless bombardment of the wider world’s commentary, I would have saved countless hours and immeasurable energy.
As I reflect upon my journey, I recognise my own detours and distractions. I was acutely aware of the broader economic environment and startup trends, but I let them dominate my daily itinerary. In the process, I allowed myself to become distanced from the more prosaic, yet fundamental, aspects of my venture.
Fast forward to the present, I now sit on the other side of the table as an investor. Armed with scar tissue, I find myself drawn to founders who possess the ability to wade through the startup world’s shiny distractions while maintaining a laser-sharp focus on their goals. The startup ecosystem’s glamour is fleeting, but the value created by hitting key milestones is perennial, casting long shadows of impact and success.
Today, I believe that a founder’s journey is not defined by the number of conferences attended or the breadth of articles read. Rather, it is characterised by the focused, relentless strides made towards reaching pivotal milestones.
As entrepreneurs, let’s appreciate the thrills and spills of the startup world, but remember to keep our eyes unerringly fixed on our unique venture and its impact on the world.
- Benjamin Chong is a partner at venture capital firm Right Click Capital, investors in bold and visionary tech founders.