Starting a Business

Maintaining Your Startup's Focus

Maintaining Your Startup's Focus
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Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the March 2013 issue of . Subscribe »

Startups fail all the time. But why?

In many cases, a new venture falters for obvious reasons--not enough capital; before its time; founder fatigue ... the list goes on. Yet other instances of failure seem inexplicable. Take Loosecubes, for example. In November, after two and a half years in business, the New York City-based office-sharing community that had attracted 25,000 "loosecubers" in more than 60 countries called it quits.

To me, the idea seemed primed to take off--and, in fact, was already taking off. The 16-person company had reeled in $9 million in venture capital funding during its run. It even spawned copycats such as Desktime in Chicago. Plus, Loosecubes founder Campbell McKellar is one of the most poised and articulate young entrepreneurs I've ever interviewed.

So why did Loosecubes close up shop? That's still unknown. McKellar isn't talking to the media. My suspicion is her reasons had to do with passion--precisely, too many passions.

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.

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.

Exhibit A: Tony Hsieh. It's well known that the serial entrepreneur and CEO of Zappos has a 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 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.

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