When I say, “the richest person in the world,” who comes to mind? Most people would say Bill Gates, perhaps a few would say Warren Buffet. And the majority would be right… if you assumed that this didn’t mean the world’s richest person ever. In that case the correct answer would be John D. Rockefeller Sr. The amount of wealth he created in the 1800’s and early 1900’s far eclipses the current top ten list of the worlds richest people combined. That’s right: combined. But I’m not going to give you a history lesson on Rockefeller. If you want to read more check out the distilled version of his biography here, by Dane Maxwell. This post is about the single most important lesson I’ve learned from studying great entrepreneurs like Rockefeller, as well as from my own experiences (and mistakes) in the last 4 years as a student of business. If I had to boil it all down to one thing, just one lesson, one idea that keeps coming up throughout my experiential as well as passive studies, it is this: STOP MULTI-TASKING. Let me rephrase that… STOP DOING MORE THAN ONE BUSINESS AT ONCE. Put yet another way: FOCUS, gosh darnit! Focus on just one idea at a time. Although I can happily say that I haven’t (to my knowledge) made any monumental mistakes in business, I can say that all of the little mistakes I have made have been the direct result of losing focus. For example, even now, although I agree the idea of focus that I am advocating for here, I face the same dilemma with PetoVera’s business. I am working hard to balance my time between running our web design business, that which pays the bills, and successfully launching Saber Blast (PetoVera’s first product). This is very difficult because both require my time and attention if they are going to be successful (or continue to be, in the case of PetoVera). But I’m doing it all wrong, and I know it! I am not focused. That’s what is frustrating me. Doing both right now, quite frankly, is hurting me and not helping the business to grow the way it should be. I’m sleeping less than I should and I’m not focused enough on streamlining and improving the core business. Most notably, we’re getting so many leads on the web design front we can barely handle the demand. Some people would say “But that’s a good problem to have!” Yes, but it’s still a problem, one that needs to be solved if we want to continue providing a high quality service to clients. Getting back to the root of the issue though, the reason this is a problem in the first place is because my company and I are (a) resource and time constrained and (b) I’m trying to do too many things at once. If I’m not careful, quality will suffer. I see this same exact issue (but worse) with lots and lots of other entrepreneurs or wanna-be entrepreneurs. They are always biting off more than they can chew or bouncing back and forth from one business to another, rather than focusing on only one. I believe the two main causes for this are (a) fear, (b) a lack of self-discipline, and (c) a lack of ability to think systematically. Going back to Rockefeller for a moment, here is a man who was absolutely structured and rigid in his habits, like a marine groomed for war. Everyday he would exercise, read, make key business decisions, check on the key metrics for the company, spend time with family, and sleep. That was pretty what he would do every single day, over and over. Religion played a big role in his life as well. He likely believed that it was God’s will that he be selected to succeed in such a large way. Whatever his routine, habits, or beliefs, Rockefeller was singularly focused on growing his company, Standard Oil, in to the behemoth it is now known for being. He didn’t start multiple businesses, he didn’t chase down a thousand different ideas. Instead he took over the oil industry piece by piece over the course of decades, expanded and streamlined it. So what the heck is my problem and all these other entrepreneur’s problems? Why aren’t we completely focused yet? Let’s go back to the causes and try to make a concrete conclusion…
- Fear -To give a personal example, I am afraid that the company would run out of money if I focused solely on Saber Blast and got out of the web design business. On the other hand, I believe we’re short changing a better vision of the future for our company if we focus only on the web design aspect. As I sit here and type though, the more I consider it, the more I realize this fear is largely unfounded because I know I have the skill and the confidence to be successful on either path.
So perhaps the fear has more to do with making a committed decision and less to do with fear of loss: I don’t want to “get stuck” doing one thing and end up not enjoying it. This too, after considering it, is unfounded. A decision can be as permanent or as temporary as we want it to be. A rule and a wall, are similar, but only one represents an invisible boundary, make sense?
- Lack of Self-Discipline – I’ve gotten better at this in recent months. People approach me or my colleagues quite often with business opportunities. In some cases people are audacious or confident enough to ask us to work for free. Unlike in the past, I don’t jump on most of these opportunities. I ask questions and I listen more often than I talk. I try to understand and learn about the way the other person thinks and how the business model that they are presenting is constructed.Many less experienced and wanna-be entrepreneurs (myself included up until a couple of years ago) will not react to presented opportunities the same way. They will let their enthusiasm and desire to “go big” and “get rich quick” distract them from their current businesses. Many will rationalize it and say that they are spreading out their risk.
The main problem is what I call EADD (Entrepreneur Attention Deficit Disorder). This stems from the fact that entrepreneurs naturally see opportunity in just about anything.In addition, another natural reaction I’ve observed when looking back at Scrimple, my first business, was when I ran into a wall, I jumped ship instead of being disciplined enough to sit down and think the problem through.
- Lack of Ability to Think Systematically – My Father is an engineer, so in part I am naturally blessed with enough of a “mechanical mindset” or technical talent that allows me to view the world and all of it’s problems as solvable through a series of steps. You’re looking for a job? There’s a process and solution for that. Too much demand for your services and not enough supply? There’s a process and a solution for that.
Other newbies or wanna-be entrepreneurs, however, are either not born with this inclination or simply do not invest in themselves in order to develop this ability. Instead, they are driven by emotion, mainly the desire to pull a Facebook and cash out big, rather than build something sustainable.