The Entrepreneur’s Secret Weapon? Focus!

There are always 100 things to do but only resources to do 5 of them.

One of the most remarkable business transformations in the last few years has to have been The Walt Disney Company’s entry into streaming.  In December of 2020, they announced that Disney+ had signed up 86 million subscribers – not only trouncing their 2020 forecast for the service, but blowing past their 2021, 2022 and 2023 forecasts as well.   Even more impressively, this February they announced Disney+ had tacked on another 14 million subscribers – doing in only 2 months something that it had taken Netflix more than 10 years to achieve.

Disney’s streaming success completely surprised me.  I didn’t think they would have the insight to recognize that streaming could be their company’s future, nor the courage to make the necessary – and difficult – changes to their business model to make it all happen.  I figured that with their fingers in so many pies: theme parks, cruise ships, Broadway shows, retail stores, etc., they would continue to spread their attention thinly across everything, rather than be willing to make the tradeoffs needed to compete at Netflix’ level.  I figured they would be well back in the pack – right next to the other distracted players like Apple and Amazon.

Rather glibly, I was so confident about the power of focus, that I said I’d only worry about competitors “once Netflix opens a theme park or releases a cell phone.”

But I was wrong. Disney went all in.

It suddenly was clear why they had spent billions to purchase Fox and LucasFilm. They completely reorganized their entertainment division to prioritize content for streaming. They pledged to raise their content budget to 9 billion dollars per year by 2024. And they announced they would be foregoing shareholder dividends to be able to channel even more resources to streaming.

Simply put; Disney was playing by Netflix rules. They were demonstrating they were willing to sacrifice a successful business model in the present to ensure they had a successful model for the future. And most importantly – they were focusing.

Focus is probably the most important skill for an entrepreneur to master.  Startups are by their very nature under-resourced. There are always 100 things to do but only resources to do 5 of them.  The worst mistake you can make is to try and do everything 5% of the way, rather than picking 4 and doing each of them 125%.

But that then raises the interesting question of what to focus on.  How does one know which of the 100 items crying out for attention deserve your time and attention? How can you figure out which 4 or 5 will be the ones where – if you get them right – all the rest of your problems don’t matter?

That particular skill: an ability to accurately pick the right things to work on, paired with the ability to focus on them to the exclusion of others, turns out to be an existentially important trait.

That’s why I’m so excited that focus is the … focus of episode 7 of the That Will Never Work podcast.  It’s available now.

In this episode, I speak with Marta, founder of Art Provocateur, who is struggling to get traction for her online erotic art gallery.  It’s obvious to me within the first few minutes of our conversation that Marta is struggling to do too much with too little, and worse, is failing to take advantage of some very obvious advantages she’s been given.

We walk through such considerations as:

– How to know which side of a 2-sided-network to focus on first? (Hint: focusing on both sides at once pretty much guarantees that neither side will see traction).

– How to figure out the right focal points?  (Hint: by focusing on the thing that she has a chance to be the best in the world at).

– How to take her weaknesses (social media prudery) and convert them into a strength (public relations).

This last point in particular is an important one, especially since I’m always looking for public relations hooks for my businesses.  I learned long ago that, done right, PR can deliver the strongest, most credible, and most cost-effective boost for a business.  Especially when, as in Marta’s case, she has the perfect opportunity to make a lot of noise talking about something most people don’t want to talk about, but that people do want to hear talked about.

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