Focus or fail

It’s so easy to fall into the illusion of work where you can spend hours doing something that feels like working but that in reality is not contributing anything to the health of your startup.

I fell into this trap many times during the initial 18 months of Toky by attending to conferences, doing interviews for media outlets in Paraguay and in Mexico, actively seeking attention for my “successes” with Toky and generally enjoying the praise I was receiving from the public for being “brave and smart” for having created a tech startup.

I was enjoying myself feeling important. It’s an addictive feeling that’s so hard to let go of and that’s so toxic at the same time.

I felt like a winner back then and ironically, I was absolutely certain that I was great and that Toky was going to turn out to be a huge success. It’s ironic because today, after almost 6 years and having survived all sorts of shit-shows, I still need to remind myself every day that I’m more experienced now so that I can gain the confidence I need to execute.

I wasted many months working on the wrong things and focusing on unimportant stuff. My fellow batch founders in Wayra were doing exactly the same thing and no one was telling us we should be focusing on our businesses instead. Many startups on my batch died, and I don’t know enough to make a fair judgement here, but I’m sure the lack of focus was one of the main reasons for this outcome.

In 2015, and after realizing we had an expiration date because we were quickly running out of money, the shock of learning this fact opened our eyes and we were forced to work on the right things or admit we were going to fail.

In a memory that I can recall vividly, I remember Oscar and I walking around Parque México in Mexico City discussing that we needed to change focus and start charging money for our product or that otherwise our days were numbered. After a few walk-arounds that park, we turned Toky from a B2C business into B2B.

A similar view of the one we had that day during that walk in Parque México

After that, our attention seeking addiction slowly started to vanish and we slowly also started disappearing from the visible world. We locked ourselves down and started building the product that we have today.

In an unsurprising turn of events, we saw that the world didn’t actually care at all about us. When we chose to not show ourselves anymore people hardly noticed. It was a new reality that was hard swallow but that we learned to move on from eventually.

Focus doesn’t receive enough attention and is one of those advices that is easy to accept but very hard to follow. I’ve been there myself and I get it, but this time you need to not just listen, you need to act.

Determine what’s important for the success of your startup, determine the order of importance of each thing, and focus on one (or a small few) thing(s) at a time.