Day: September 24, 2012

Sorry but No. I need to FOCUS

Why Is Focus Important?

This is the story of why focus is important (in my personal context) and how I have formally changed my approach to mentoring.

I have always been a big fan of Mick Liubinskas and his ‘Mr Focus’ persona he takes on stage when encouraging tech startup entrepreneurs to pick something to focus on, pick one differentiated thing, not ten things to build your business around. I have a great photo of one of the first times he ever gave that presentation back in 2009 or 2010 at an early SydStart and it still makes me smile.

Most people who know me well will know how productive I am, it really do punch through a lot of stuff with a system of people and processes around me and the initiatives I care about. It feels weird to talk like this and in some cultures this will sound big headed but it is simply to give a little context to what follows.

So What Has Worked Well?

Lately it has been obvious that the few things I focus on have gone well in fact after nearly 25 years of cool stuff in financial technology and more recently helping build the Sydney Startup Ecosystem it is obvious focus pays off big time. Well, in a work context that is, most of the time it does, lets put personal relationships aside for one moment.

For example –

  • SydStart recently ran for the fourth time (third if you don’t count the mini one). SydStart is a (normally) annual event has now become the leading professional tech startup event in Australia, I founded it a few years ago and it keeps pretty much doubling every time we run it. This time we had nearly a thousand people and probably more importantly the quality of the speakers, attendees and exhibitors keeps going up too. So that particular focused effort has paid off.
  • Family has been another focus area and I am super proud of how my daughter and son are growing up and have been able to see bits of the world first hand yet still know their family here in Australia especially grand parents and extended cousins. It is wonderful to see such bright, energetic, positive people slowly find their place in the world and learn just how much they can contribute.
  • Fishburners is really coming along nicely too. Those of you whom know me will see a recurring theme where I don’t step up to lead if others are already doing stuff. But I will be there quietly supporting and actively shaping. This is one of those projects and it is nice to see over a thousand people a week through the doors now, around 200 members and we have expanded to take over the whole building @608harris.
  • Cooper & Co is also coming along – by leveraging all those past glories (see Linkedin ‘cool stuff’ link above) and new technologies it complements the major consulting groups well by providing the business technology management (strategy to execution) component which the premium providers like McKinsey and Booz often tend to leave off and it is precisely where we pick up and really excel.  We are trying to focus on industries more aligned with our personal values, this might take a while given our focus has been in finance related tools, mergers and acquisitions and real-time (often trading) technologies.
  • Coinr is the main platform I want to focus on (read the Coinr Blog for the evolving details) but unfortunately I have some other distractions (good ones but still distractions) that need to be substantially reduced. The ideas I have in my mind for coinr need to get out into the real world, the benefits could be remarkable for a heap of people if we can execute well enough.
  • All my mentoring and growing the Sydney Startup Ecosystem is simply taking up a lot of time. On a typical week I will do 5-10 meetings directly related to the Sydney Startup Ecosystem plus a further 5-10 requests for mentoring by Startups. This might be about Silicon St or the NSW Govt Industry Action Plan or lobbying to Drop Paperwork for Australian Tech Startups(DPATS) or engaging local city of sydney people or engaging global thought leaders to visit, share with or set up branches in Sydney.

So What Does This Mean?

It is all fun and good for Sydney and the country but I can’t keep putting so much time it that stuff. Especially philanthropy and mentoring. I am also going to dial down the community time component.

Usually all this is pro-bono, ie free, zero pay, no income, no financial gain arrrggghhh. The money doesn’t worry me particularly but it does impact my other initiatives because there is a real quantifiable opportunity cost. Obviously I am adding value because people keep coming back and referring more people but frankly it is becoming unsustainable. I could charge for mentoring but really don’t want to do that.

It is not like I am starving, my financial technology work over the years has paid well and I do have acorns stashed away (mainly illiquid investments).

But the real issue is not money. I’d be equal happy with just instant noodles and good internet. The reason I remain excited about the startup scene here is simply I want my kids to grow up in a great environment where their chances of running randomly into great opportunities (i.e. great people doing great stuff) is as great or greater than in San Francisco or whatever the next hot tech startup entrepreneurial scene is going to be. In fact my bigger vision is for that wish to be shared with and realised by every Australian and for us to lead in greater Asia. I’ll write a detailed post (or book) on that eventually some time, it will probably be called Riding On The Geek’s Back.

I’d also like to lead the way by being a successful example. Many people would say I already have been ridiculously successful, having made some huge impact on the world in a few industries in a few countries and made serious money for a lot of stakeholders in various ventures. I think the point is that I’d like to do one that is all mine. End to end. Not all mine in the sense of not sharing the journey with stakeholders (e.g. co-founders) but one on the sense that I can say I/we did it from scratch to global success including all the potholes and mistakes along the way.

To put a ding in the world (thanks Steve). To make a difference. To have an impact. etc…

It all sounds like a cliche but it really isn’t. Especially if it can create sustainable rewards like financial onces I can reinvest, or like case study learnings or inspiration for others.

To do this I need to focus. A lot more.

So from today I am resolving to reduce the variables.

So What Is Going To Get Trimmed Back? Something Has To Give Right?

Philanthropy will be slashed. I’ll still donate money but not so much and certainly not donate time so much. I am also going to cut back on time at community related events. There are a lot (Sydney Angels, Push Start, Founders Institute, University judging/speaking for USYD + UNSW + UTS +  UWS, TiE, Silicon Beach, Fishburners, various schools + charities + sports + social clubs and other groups).

Mentoring will be also slashed. The quality and care factor will remain but the time commitment has to be trimmed. It is time that is not ‘leveraged’ enough and it is increasingly not unique (others can do a good job too, not just me – a good result of the Sydney Startup Ecosystem growing so fast). I will only provide two slots a week of LESS THAN 30 MINUTES on Friday at 10:30 and 11. If you want a slot get add this iCal format calendar if you can’t work out how to do it, then learn, don’t contact me, work it out yourself dude.

My time on so called ‘advisory boards’ will also be slashed. There are around 40 companies that regularly call on me for opinions on stuff. That is going to stop unless we broker agreements for equity or cash that allows me to reduce consulting time. I still need to pay the bills and bootstrap my own startup so this works well and since it is contributing to both the personal and ecosystem end goals it is one of the better distractions.

A GateKeeper. A Hurdle. A Barrier To Free Stuff.

Also, before we can meet you need to know what Silicon Beach Forums are. You need to know what Fishburners is. You need to have read the ReWork book. You need to know the principles of Lean Startup. It will also help if you know what SydStart is and if you have read a few of the more popular/recent articles on my AnyDex blog and the blogs of Steve Blank and other though leaders like him. Maybe also stuff like in The Plex and The Intelligent Entrepreneur. It will show me that you are serious and it will save us all time.

None of the above are linked because you need to learn how to cut and paste and google it dude. This is the real world.

The above reading list is a set of serious recommendations made with the very best of intentions because it will benefit most businesses especially tech startups. Feel free to ignore it but don’t bother making an appointment if you are not across them.

Why Go On About It So Much?

This blog post is deliberately a bit long. It is intended to sort out the serious people from the wanna-be people. I have made a huge impact in some the lives of some entrepreneurs in recent years. I take that responsibility very seriously indeed. So I’ll try to keep the core value proposition I have always done.

Appointments are free. No advice is provided, just opinions. You should not consider it advice in any legal sense. If I like you and  your team and your idea I will do my best to help. If I don’t well bad luck. All conversations are confidential. Don’t try to connect with me on social media unless we have actually met and shared some positive common ground.

This all sounds a bit too serious perhaps but when your backlog in Linkedin is in the many hundreds and your agile backlog of use cases to be implemented is also in the hundreds – it really is time to focus.