Want to increase your chances of start-up success? Lack focus.

I recently had an industry watcher tell me that the key ingredient to a start-up’s success is focus. You need to be focused like a laser on your product, objectives, financial plan and execute without distractions, he said. Apparently this is especially true for life sciences start-ups.

I could not disagree more. Great scientists make awesome discoveries specifically because of a lack of focus. Their greatest gift, curiosity, is the antithesis of focus. We all know the star examples – from pencillin to Viagra (and coca-cola to the big bang theory). But at a more mundane level – and I can say this as someone who has spent many nights in a biology lab – great publications and worthy ideas come from investigating things that are not part of the original research plan. Or in my industry-watcher friend’s words, my publications have all come because I was distracted.

Although I am less of an expert on this, distraction is probably a good thing in a non-life science start-up also. Many of the most successful ones, have pivoted from the original idea as they learnt more. Trying to get over-accurate even before you’ve started on the business (even to the second decimal place in projections that are years out) does not seem like a good use of a start-up’s time. No one can be that sure of an experiment when it starts off, and it likely gets in the way of that “aha” realization that lies parallel to where your focus is.

My recipe for start-up success starts with an openness to change, mixed with a sense of adventure, in a healthy medium of curiosity. Focus does not come into the picture.

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