Lessons Learned: Solitary Focus, Addictions & Anchors

lessons learned12 months can change a lot, more than I realized or expected. What I thought Zirtual would be a year ago isn’t even recognizable compared to the business it is today. We haven’t really pivoted as much as we’ve tweaked the business model like relentless crack heads. Each “swivel” we’ve made has been based partially on my gut, partially on actual customer feedback and partially on greater trends I’ve noticed unfolding in the market.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes a long the way, I’ve also learned a ton & luck has definitely played a part – as it always seems to – but there are always trends to be noticed.

In this post I want to share some of the insights I’ve stumbled upon in the last year in hopes they may help you as you chase your dreams, try to build a great business or strive for success – in whatever aspect it may be.

1. is for one thing at a time

A year ago I realized I had to make a choice, I could no longer chase 3 or 7 or 11 business ideas at once. I had to focus on one, just one, and put all I had into that if I wanted to build something great. This isn’t a particularly new idea, Paul Graham (who I have started avidly reading) describes how the thing that sits at the top of your mind will in many ways dictate the way your life unfolds – whether it be the desire to find a mate, the desire to build a great company, or insecurities about your body.

The thing I’ve found interesting is that non-business activities can be just as detrimental in the early days – if one gives them too much mind share – as trying to focus on two companies at the same time.

Some things that can be fatal in the early days of a startup, when the founder focuses too much of his/her energy on them are:

  1. romantic relationships: especially if you’re trying to start/end one… this takes a LARGE amount of focus and calls into play emotions which can run amok in your mind & stop you from focusing on what matters most: building your business.
  2. family drama: overbearing, needy, or dependent relatives can totally throw off your focus & energy as you pursue a dream in the early days. The guilt, the time-sink, the emotional toll can destroy your productivity at a critical time.
  3. over socializing: this is my own pet-sin. I love to socialize, I love to go to bars, parties and events. I love to drink vodka cocktails, smoke clove cigarettes (don’t even judge me) and chat with strangers… I do this 5 out of 7 nights of the week. Socializing has also been amazing for me, it’s been what’s allowed me to grow my network so fast since moving to San Francisco BUT I am recently realizing that without proper limits this can seriously cut into productive time or effect how ambitious I am in the morning.
  4. emotional issues: I had this problem too while I was running my social media consulting business in Vegas. I was incredibly OCD, to the point of paralysis, I would spend hours obsessing over little things and not working – it was killing me and seriously effecting my business. Finally one day I got so fed up I went to see a shrink, and it completely changed my life. If you seem to struggle with “being in your own mind” too much consider this path – it’s worked wonders for me.

2. We’re all addicts deep down.

An interesting article I read recently (and can not find to save my life) was on Time, or The Economist, or something and it talked about how those who are very driven towards success (in any calling) share many of the same neural pathways as addicts.

The gist was that entrepreneurs and very successful professionals want X more, but they don’t enjoy X as much when they get it – the classic addiction catch-22.

Since we know this about ourselves – and most successful people I know show this trait in one or more ways – we must self-police and understand that it will not only be easier for us to get “obsessed” with our business and not stop until we reach X million, but it’ll also be easier for us to fall into a bad relationship, pick up a drinking habit or start self medicating with drugs.

Once we realize this we can at worst better avoid the pitfalls of workaholism and other addictions and at best use our addictive nature to harness bursts of energy and focus it on our goals.

3. Set the size & shape, then go with the flow

If I had of gotten stuck on my idea for “Zirtual” 12 months ago – a job board that helps people connect outsourced workers w/ employers (i know, so unique wasn’t it?) I would have never gotten to the point we are currently at – a service that connects busy people with dedicated personal assistants.

Instead I set two things in stone & decided to let the rest go with the flow.

  1. The size. I have often referred to how big of a company I want Zirtual to grow to by the time I’m 30 years old, often times in this blog even. I have a solid goal of building a company worth $100 million by my 30th birthday and that set “size” is almost a mantra that keeps me going each day. It has acted as the North star that points out when we’re headed off track. Each time I start down a path that wouldn’t lead towards a $100 MM business in 4 short years – that set in stone “size” helps me get back on track. Your size can be 100 people, or $1 million in revenue or even sell this website for $25,000 in a year – but make sure you set one, I can’t tell you how helpful it will be down the line.
  2. The shape. This is the way the company feels, branding and logo-wise. A lot of people disagree that a company’s name and branding isn’t important early on – but I think it’s vital. When I think of Zirtual I think of our logo, our light blue feel, our branding and the shiny business cards in my purse. Zirtual has almost taken on it’s own persona in my mind and I’m thoroughly in love with it from design to company name. I have been told many times that I should change our name, I will never do this because it’s one of the 2 things I set in stone from the very beginning.

Everything else, from business model, to employees, to target market has and can change – but it’s important to have a select few “anchors” in any business that don’t shift with time and that keep you focused on what’s most important and keep you motivated to achieve it.