Simple. Obvious. Challenging. All my favorite rules of thumb seem to follow this pattern.
Take my favorite one. There are only two things that matter to early stage startups: revenue and learning. Sounds extraordinarily simple and obvious, right? But it can be hard to follow — especially during a string of long, stressful days with dozens of consequential decisions to make all at once. It’s like other sensible advice — “Keep your hands up!” from a boxing coach or “Take deep, slow breaths” from a scuba instructor — that takes presence of mind to put into effect when you’re under pressure.
I suggest that founders look at every single one of their company’s activities and ask themselves two things: “Is it helping us learn something important? Is it generating revenues?” If the answer to these questions is “no,” I offer another equally simple piece of advice: Stop what you’re doing and refocus on things that do.
Staying focused is one of the biggest challenges for startups. There are hundreds of competing demands on founders, their leadership teams, and their limited resources. A lot of valuable time can be lost with endless rounds of product development, clever brand-building campaigns, or land-grabs in untested markets.
Try this simple test for yourself. How did you spend your day today? Were your tasks serving the goals of generating learning and/or revenue? How about your teammates?
Like keeping your hands up in a fight, staying focused on the simple things keeps you in the game.