How to stay focused when launching a startup
Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How to stay focused when launching a startup

Under the best circumstances, launching a startup is challenging and risky. There is always more to do than there is time, money or people to get it all done. So, how do you prioritize and stay focused? The answer is with a 90-day plan.

Just about every established company has a 3-5 year (or longer) operating and strategic plan. However, in a startup, long-term plans like those are almost useless. The harsh reality for most startups is that success or failure often depend on what gets done in the next 90-days. So, forget the long-term planning and get hyper-focused on the short-term.

Create 90-day mission and vision statements.

Start by creating a 90-day mission and vision statement. Your 90-day mission statement will describe the main thing your startup will be doing for the next 3-months. For your 90-day vision statement, you should create a clear picture of where you’ll be after 90-days has passed. Here are some examples.

Example 90-day Vision Statements:

  • To be the first XYZ app to attract more than 10,000 active daily users within the first 30-days of the initial release.
  • To be the first startup to raise a pre-revenue seed round of over $1,000,000 for an XYZ business in Tampa Bay.

Example 90-day Mission Statements:

  • To be the most committed, efficient and productive 3-person product development team on the planet.
  • To be the most polished, prepared and credible startup team that the Tampa Bay angel investor community has ever seen.

Define your 90-day strategy and objectives.

To make your 90-day vision a reality, you’ll need a solid short-term strategy and some clearly defined objectives.

Your 90-day strategy

Your strategy is the general approaches you’re going to take realize your vision. For example, if you don’t have the budget to hire full-time employees, you might have a strategy to hire freelancers to compensate. Keep things clear and simple. I like single sentence strategy statements. Here are a few examples.

Example Strategy Statements

  • Hire freelancers on an as-needed basis to speed up development cycles without hiring full-time employees.
  • Get a part-time job that doesn’t require much thought so I can focus on my startup while still having an income to pay the bills.
  • Read all of the new reviews for the top 10 competitive apps to identify potential features that users might be looking for.
  • Use 3rd party APIs for XYZ to reduce the time it would take us to develop XYZ functionality.
  • Start reaching out to potential investors now because we may need capital to scale after we launch.
  • License our XYZ module to get capital for marketing after we launch.

90-day objectives

Your objectives are the outcomes you’re going to make happen. This is what it’s all about. To define good objectives, remember two things. First objectives need deadlines. Second, the outcome of your objectives can’t be subjective. Meaning, when the deadline has passed, the outcome of the objective was accomplished or not and nobody could dispute the outcome either way. Here are some examples of objectives with deadlines and clear outcomes.

Example objectives

  • We will survey 100 potential users by October 15
  • Photoshop screen mockups for all screens will be done by October 25
  • We will get feedback on screen mockups from 25 people by October 31
  • The first release of the iOS app will be submitted to the app store by December 31
  • We will reach out to the top 50 bloggers to introduce our app within 5-days after the app is in the app store

The other thing to consider with your objectives is their priority. If you have too many objectives, it might be unrealistic to get them all done in 90-days. So, make sure you prioritize your objectives. Think about this question. If you could only complete one objective, which one would you choose? That’s your top priority. While it’s not alway possible, try to focus on completing one objective completely, before moving on to the next.

Tasks, timelines, and tracking

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. This is exactly why a strategy and objectives aren’t enough. You’ll also need to define tasks, assign ownership, establish timelines and monitor progress.

Tasks are the things that need to get done in order to accomplish objectives. At a minimum, you’ll want to keep a list of tasks that shows who the task is assigned to, and the date the task should be completed by. If you’re operating in beast mode, you might want to have a little more than just a simple list. There are tons of slick task management tools out there, but Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets are both plenty good enough for the job.

With either Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, you can create a spreadsheet for your tasks and set up columns to specify who owns the task, when it will be started, how many days it will take to complete and the status. With the start date and estimated days to complete columns, you can use the WORKDAY function (both Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets have it) to calculate the future date when all of the tasks will be complete. This lets you see, at any point, if you are on track to accomplish your objectives by the end of your 90-day plan.

People, competence, and commitment

A good plan is critical for creating clarity and focus and will make limited resources go much further. That said, the very best plan is only as good as the people executing it.

As important as planning is, it’s not the most important thing. Startup success will ultimately depend on competent and committed people who share a common vision and a drive to make that vision a reality.

Creating a startup takes a tremendous level of effort and commitment from everyone involved. The hours are long, the work is hard and the pay sucks (in the beginning anyhow). This all adds up to a lot of stress. While a 90-day plan won’t make the days shorter or the work any easier, it can help you get to a better paycheck a lot faster. Hopefully, that’s enough to get you started!