Diana Ransom is a contributing editor to Entrepreneur.com and queried in an article today whether lack of focus is an issue in startup failure. She cites the usual suspects (inadequate capitalization, poor market timing, and “founder fatigue”), but then notes that there’s no plausible explanation in other situations. Ransom’s case in point is the decision by founder Campbell McKellar to close the doors of New York City based Loosecubes in November after what seemed to be an incredible run. While McKellar was praised as articulate and poised, Ransom went on to postulate that maybe she had too many passions and it became her undoing.
The 2.5 year journey attracted 25,000 subscribers in 60+ countries in an office-sharing play that has been copied by Desktime in Chicago. Ransom said she felt the idea was taking off, as evidenced by $9 million in venture capital funding and a staff of 16, all run by a phenomenal young entrepreneur. The sudden decision to close up shop with no media interviews by the founder gives rise to Ransom’s observation that there must be an underlying cause such as too many competing interests:
Like novelists who write several books, entrepreneurs often harbor multiple business ideas, and they love all of them. This is where problems arise; rather than building and running one business for decades, they’re itching to give the next idea a try. In fact, selling or shutting down a business can serve as a form of catharsis.
Naturally, there’s a financial loss associated with failure, but there’s also a sense of closure that people in the career world don’t really ever get to feel. That business (aka your baby) is gone. And while employees who get laid off often look for a new job in the same field, entrepreneurs can consider something entirely different. They can break new ground, explore undiscovered territories. While fraught with uncertainty, it’s also exciting. It’s the thrill of the launch. I suspect this is what happened to McKellar.
Ransom has interviewed many entrepreneurs and has experience identifying with their motivations. She writes that, “If you can identify with these flights of fancy–and you’re aware that they’ve become an impediment to your business trajectory–let me offer a suggestion: Instead of seeking your bliss by creating specific products or services, fall for something that can work across any business. Tony Hsieh (the serial entrepreneur and CEO of Zappos) has a (well-known) major crush on customer service. That’s his thing no matter what business he’s in. His long-held belief that quality customer service will make or break consumer companies helped him create a beloved online retailer, which Amazon.com acquired in 2009 for an estimated $1.2 billion. Now, customer service may be Hsieh’s cup of tea, but yours may differ. And that’s OK. Just make sure there’s something in your entrepreneurial passion that will hold your focus well after your initial idea has matured. Your eventual success depends on it.”
While identifying a strong suit and core value like customer service that can transcend products and services ideas is a good idea. I would argue that there is nothing wrong with being the other kind of entrepreneur. One key proviso: find a way to build a superstar team around yourself sooner than later so that you can effectively delegate responsibilities that draw you into the doldrums of running a business instead of the excitement of launching an idea.
Those who are able to build teams that function without their requisite involvement are freed to do more of what they wish–even becoming a serial entrepreneur like Tony Hsieh!