Startups Anonymous: Serial entrepreneurs have a problem with shiny red balls — and that’s okay



[This is a weekly series that brings you raw, first-hand experiences from founders and investors in the trenches. Their story submissions are anonymous, allowing them to share openly without fear of retribution. Every Wednesday, we’ll run one new story chosen by Dana Severson, who operates StartupsAnonymous, a place for startups to share, ask questions, and  answer them in story-length posts, all anonymously. You can share your own story here.]

Ask most people if you should spread yourself thin or focus almost 100% of the time, they’ll tell you to focus. More over, they’ll tell you that if you want to succeed, you need to eliminate all distractions and give 110% of your energy on a single effort.

I appreciate that perspective, but it’s not for me.

I’ve gone back and forth on the importance of focus over the years. I used to be envious of those who “had their sh*t together”. At one point, I had asked my doctor if I should be put on Adderall or some other attention deficit medication. And, I’ve spent more money with Franklin Covey than I’d ever care to admit.

Eventually, I realized I’m a serial entrepreneur and focus is not part of my core competency. And, that’s ok.

I’ve struggled with focus my entire life, and I don’t see it ever changing. At this point, I don’t want it to change. Serial entrepreneurs don’t necessarily follow ideas that they’re passionate about, they follow ideas they’re excited about. And, therein lies the problem with focus. Excitement tends to fade, where passion often remains.

But, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long you’re aware of it. When a serial entrepreneur is excited, there is absolutely nothing that will get in their way. They will do anything to keep the excitement alive, which means that their business benefits.

The problem is when the excitement fades.

For a serial entrepreneur, ideas are like mini-relationships and you are the ultimate player. Every one that comes along is exciting and you believe has the potential to be “the one.” At first, there is no idea you’d rather be with. You give it all of your attention and make everyone around you believe you’ve found your perfect match. For a while, they believe you … and so do you. Eventually, the honeymoon comes to an end. You start seeing the imperfections and it becomes too much. That’s when you decide to cheat.

We get bored really easily. Talk about the minutiae of a business, and watch our eyes glaze over. We’re not operators, we’re innovators. If there were a job where all we had to do was generate business ideas, we’d be all in. That’s our core competency.

For us, it’s not about solving the world’s problems or building something that “needs” to exist. It’s about building something that keeps us interested.

We’re like children; business to us is like toys at the toy store. We want as many of them as possible, but only a few of them we’ll truly treasure. We want to capture as much revenue from as many sources as we can. We want the comfort of knowing that if one of our businesses become unprofitable or problematic, we have another that picks up our energy.

We lose interest in things when they become a burden. If we need to focus on them, we’d rather just let them go.

It’s all about maintaining excitement for us, which means that we’re not so good at focusing.

Solution: Find someone to help you manage the shiny balls.

[photo by Steve Baker]