As an early-stage startup founder, you have loads of things to do and not enough time and money to do everything. Choosing what to focus on and what to postpone or even ignore is a very hard thing, but it is absolutely necessary if you want to push your project forward.
So, how do you make the choice?
If you ask an IP lawyer about the most important elements of running a startup, they’ll very likely mention taking care of your patents. After all, startups are innovation machines, and if you can’t protect your innovation legally, then other people would steal it and would benefit from your hard work.
If you ask a commercial lawyer, they’ll most likely tell you that having a solid contractual base between the early team members is key. If you don’t, then you risk making conflicts in the founding team impossible to resolve, and unfortunately, internal conflicts indeed are one of the big reasons startup projects fail.
And if you ask a financial specialist, they’ll tell you that contracts don’t matter much if you can’t pay the bills, and they’ll be right. At the end of the day, we all need to eat, and it’s hard to empower people and truly test ideas without a solid financial basis.
A developer would tell you that one thing you should not compromise with is product quality. After all, one thing some of the most successful tech innovators have in common is an obsession with the tiniest details, which translates to dedicated customers willing to advocate for your brand and drive organic growth. Surely, this is an important aspect – it would be hard to grow a business with a mediocre offering exponentially.
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A marketing person would tell you that even the most polished product can’t get the needed start without a smart startup marketing strategy that finds you initial traction.
The problem is that all of these statements are partially correct. Neglecting any of these aspects of running a successful business creates risks, problems, and inefficiencies. However, you simply don’t have a choice. You cannot afford to spread yourself too thin – something has to give.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffet
This includes saying no to reasonable things as taking care of intellectual property rights.
In order to make a difference as a startup founder you need to make sure the minimal resources you have are being used in the most impactful manner. And the best way to do it is to concentrate your efforts on a single point of pressure.
Of course, where exactly you need to find this pressure point is highly situational. The solid foundation of your project is validating that there is a need for what you are building. However, once this is achieved, the next step is finding what would distinguish you from every other project vying for attention. Your choice should be determined mostly from your domain expertise and the environment (the market) in which your project lives.
Apply what you are best at to your project relentlessly, and feel free to neglect the other reasonable stuff. Your negligence would inevitably bring problems, but the good thing is that all of the other stuff a business requires is conditional on you having a valuable project on your hands.
In summary, it’s better to have a valuable, growing project with problems that you can solve once you get more resources than a project that falls flat on its face despite having immaculate contracts because of a lack of focus on what really matters.