One of my favourite plays back in Romania used to be American Buffalo by David Mamet. It’s the story of four men, Don, Bob, Teach and Fletcher, who are conspiring to steal a coin collection from a wealthy man. My words wouldn’t do it justice so I won’t even try to describe it, but I do want to talk about a phrase that Don, the godfather figure of the play, repeats over and over again to Bobby, a young, vulnerable and shy character. Bobby tends to speak a lot and say nothing. He worries about everything, mumbles, stumbles and knocks things off. You know the type, we all had a Bobby in our classroom at one point. And on the whole duration of the play, every time he seems to lose it, Don looks at him and with a hoarse gangster voice says “focus, Bobby”.
The ability to focus has always been one of my biggest challenges. My brain seems to be in constant need of something new, from the color of the walls in the bedroom to girlfriends or business. Almost every morning a new feature or idea makes its way into my consciousness and tries to take over. Sometimes that’s good, especially when I was trying to find product/market fit and understand what customers needed. But it’s bad when one gets to the execution / scale phase. Let me explain.
Brainient started as a video management platform with interactive features. Shortly after launch we discovered that people were more interested in the interactive stuff than the video management solution and decided to focus on that. A few months thereafter we discovered that although publishers & video producers were interested in our interactive video capabilities, they weren’t willing to pay as much as we wanted them to. So while brainstorming what could be done with the technology, we saw a huge opportunity in the interactive video advertising space. We went that way and started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If we would’ve focused on what we were doing initially, there wouldn’t be any Brainient today. We discovered and improved because of a lack of focus, and it proved to be the best thing we could have done at that time.
However, every company gets to a point where the lack of focus becomes its biggest enemy. I learnt this the hard way. While we were producing shows for BrainTV, an online TV channel I started a few years ago, we failed to observe that one of the shows was generating more views than all the other ones altogether. Actually, we did observe it but because of a lack of focus we failed to act on it. We could’ve created more similar shows or increase the frequency of the successful one, which would have generated more views (read: more advertising revenue). We didn’t and the company ran out of money within 12 months.
Focusing is hard and like everything else in life, there’s no silver bullet to it. But there’s even a bigger problem than focus and that’s refusal. Once you’ve put your time, energy and sweat into a bunch of things, it’s quite difficult to just pick one and focus on it. Everything feels critical, important and everything needs to be done now. I have this problem all the time. And what I’ve done to solve it was to find a Don. A person who understands what we do at Brainient but because he’s not involved in the day-to-day operations, he can be quite objective. He’s the one who shouts “focus, Bobby” and helps me figure out the way.