Obsessing In The Right Direction

The most important trait that I've found among successful entrepreneurs

3 min read

For the last 7+ years, I’d summarize my job as talking with entrepreneurs. I talk with founders about bringing their ideas to life all day, every day.

Across all these conversations—and amidst all of the successes and failures—one pattern has emerged above all others.

The most successful founders are the ones who obsess over “the right thing.”

That doesn’t mean that they pick the best ideas, or that they have a crystal ball to find product market fit. It means that they know that delivering something of substance to their customers is all that matters.

  • If you’re building software, it’s how well your product solves your customer’s problem.
  • If you’re selling content, it’s your ability to create content that your customers can’t get out of their heads.
  • If you’re building an online community, it’s the quality of the interactions happening amongst your members.

Everything else is noise. Everything!

By relentlessly focusing on delivering their “thing,” these founders find what works and how to be relevant that much faster. 

The cancer of the start-up world is well intentioned founders who convince themselves that they’re building their business, when they’re working on stuff that simply doesn’t matter to customers.

There’s so much that comes with running even a small business. There’s operations and legal and taxes and technology and admin work that’s enough to make your eyes bleed. But the only thing that truly matters is your ability to focus on your craft—the things that are tangentially related to running your business are never a differentiator and simply will not determine your success.

The most successful founders focus obsessively on their craft—the rest of their business is little more than a footnote. That’s the mindset that leads to delivering substantial value. That’s the mindset that leads to building a business that actually changes your life.

The #1 killer of start-ups that I’ve seen across all these conversations is not founder conflict, or running out of money, or an idea that was just ahead of its time. It’s founders who obsess over the wrong areas of their business—and many of them claim to do so in the name of loving their craft. Unnecessary complexity is the silent assassin of the start-up world.

  • It’s the SaaS founder building for performance and scalability, before they have customers.
  • It’s the website builder obsessed with page speed scores, before a sale has ever been made.
  • It’s the designer that spends weeks fine tuning pixels, before anyone visits their site.
  • It’s the founder obsessed with elaborate pricing schemes, before they’ve made a sale with a simple pricing model.

These forms of complexity intoxicate us. They give us a false sense that we’re working hard on our business, when in reality our effort equates to little more than paddling in insignificant directions. They distract us, and they reduce our runway.

It’s not to say that these things don’t matter; but we need to acknowledge that this is stroking our egos and little else. Most of us have a vision for what we want our products and companies to be—that’s a good thing! And it’s important that we feel proud of our work, too.

But try as you might, you cannot out-sophisticate your way into a successful business. Blunt, undeniable value delivered simply wins every time. 

The best founders are constantly checking themselves. “Am I working on an area of my business that customers actually care about?”

The percentage of time that the honest answer to that question is “No” will probably dictate your success more than anything else. All that matters when building a business is delivering that raw substance of your idea or product as directly to the customer as quickly as possible—refinement comes later.

So I ask...

Are you playing product maker, or are you out to build a business?

The common theme is an obsession with delivering the substance—and recognizing that the rest has little to do with whether you’ll become a success.

Did Justin’s customers care that he used a one-page website builder? Did Jack’s customers care that his visuals were limited to black and white? Are Seth Godin’s readers upset that his videos don’t have fancy graphics?

Of course not! They are too obsessed with the substance to even care. In fact it’s blinding—it’s why they’re fans of these creators and why these creators are successful to the extent that they are.

I’ve come to realize that this is what we’ve been selling at Outseta all along.


Protected content?

Email tools?

These are largely commodities—they’re not going to differentiate you from your competitors. Your success will not be determined by your tools.

Outseta’s value is in being the tech stack that gives you your day back. That gives you the tools that you need, and nothing that you don’t.

So I ask again…

  • Are you pruning the hedges, when you should be planting the tree?
  • Are you getting obsessed with what will actually build your business?

Questions worth sitting with, as they’ll determine your success more than anything.

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