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 dotcom bubble, the era was rife with burgeoning technologies, untapped potential, and a burgeoning belief that technology was an alchemical touch that turned everything into gold.
This was a time before LinkedIn, before Crunchbase, before we had the ability to just google anything we wanted to know.
The heartbeat of the startup ecosystem has thrived during industry events, the crisp pages of newspapers, and the burgeoning emergence of online blogs and magazines.
As I embarked on my first entrepreneurial journey, building a fast-growing e-commerce startup, I plunged into this vibrant world and became an enthusiastic participant in this whirlwind of activity.
I traveled, networked, read a lot and absorbed every bit of information I could get 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 radiated innovation and creativity, people who introduced me to new concepts, challenged my preconceptions and inspired me to make a change.
The constant buzz of ideas, the ceaseless stream of inspiration was intoxicating. But beneath this vibrant veneer of entrepreneurial life, I slowly drifted off course.
The more I delved into this vibrant world, the more I realized I was using these activities as a smoke screen, an excuse to dodge the gritty, harsh realities of startup life. The whirlwind of networking, the constant influx of new information, the seemingly endless possibilities – these became distractions that obscured my reluctance to face the challenging aspects of my venture. Instead of propelling my startup toward major milestones, I was lost in a sea of distractions.
Reflecting on my own missteps and the lessons I’ve learned along the way brings to mind a 2019 Harvard Business Review piece aptly titled: 10 quick tips to avoid distractions at work.
This piece offers valuable advice, especially when contextualized in the startup realm:
Set clear goals and set priorities
As the first founder, my entrepreneurial vision was clouded by a lack of precise goals.
Critical milestones such as product-market fit, favorable unit economics and execution capacity were relegated to the back seat.
Turn off unnecessary meetings
Looking back, I see that the appeal of the chance meeting with a tech legend, the meeting with potential investors, the industry guru’s catching up was often just that: an attraction.
These meetings rarely contributed to my startup’s actual progress and were more often than not distractions masquerading as opportunities.
Divide the time wisely
Time is the ultimate non-renewable resource, a truth I learned the hard way.
While wasting time on countless networking events, I could have devoted blocks to product development, team coordination, and a few handpicked high-impact meetups.
Turn off push notifications
It’s easy to get caught up in the maelstrom of never-ending news updates, emails, and Slack messages.
Focusing on my startup’s needs over the relentless bombardment of the wider world’s commentary would have saved me countless hours and immeasurable energy.
As I reflect on my journey, I recognize my own detours and diversions. I was well aware of the wider economic environment and startup trends, but I let them dominate my daily travel schedule. In the process, I allowed myself to step away from the more prosaic, but fundamental, aspects of my business.
Fast forward to the present, I am now on the other side of the table as an investor. Armed with scar tissue, I find myself drawn to founders who have the ability to wade through the shiny distractions of the startup world while maintaining a laser-sharp focus on their goals. The glamor of the startup ecosystem is fleeting, but the value created by hitting key milestones is everlasting, 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 characterized by the focused, relentless steps taken to reach critical milestones.
As entrepreneurs, let’s appreciate the excitement and thrills of the startup world, but don’t forget to keep our eyes unerringly focused on our unique venture and its impact on the world.
- Benjamin Chong is a partner at a venture capital firm Right click Capitalinvestors in bold and visionary tech founders.