Lesson 2: Focus #swtc4
My mind raced. My heart beat hard against my chest. My hands shook with anticipation.
I kept rehearsing the words in my head. I wanted make an powerful impact on everyone in the packed room. I tried to concentrate on the pitch being given in front of me. I noticed the audience laughing at something he said. I thought to myself that he seemed like a cool guy.
He finished. My turn.
“The problem is the US criminal justice system.” Silence blanketed the crowd. I knew I had their attention.
“The criminal justice system sucks. Too many times, people are forced into a twisted self-image that only brings them back into the system again. I want to change that. I want to help people re-define their criminal background to have a more positive impact on the world. A CEO I read about talked about his experience as a gang member, and how the skills he learned in jail translated to help him be successful in his multimillion dollar company. I want to help more people see the positive skills to pull out of their backgrounds. Thank you.”
Everyone applauded. I failed to mention who I needed on my team. Mistake noted.
The pitch took place at Startup Weekend Twin Cities 4. I was happy I got a chance to practice pitching.
After the full round of pitches, many people came up to me offering support for the idea. I received card after card from people who believed in making positive change. Surprised, I realized I needed to consider moving forward with this after all.
After the vote for ideas took place, my business ended up in the top 18. I didn’t know what to think. I hardly thought of my idea past the 5 minutes I spent preparing a pitch. I realized I needed to either take a lead with whoever came my way or disband quickly. There were other businesses present that I wanted to participate in. Yet I felt it was my duty to move forward with any support received.
A web designer and database guy named Anil promised to help. He had to leave early and left left me his contact information.Team member 1.
Terence also promised his support. He disbanded his team for Athelete GPS. I loved his idea, which was a tracker for athletes running marathons to help supporters and family track their location. Team member 2.
Brandon had worked with Jobs2Web, a local tech startup that recently sold for $110 million. I didn’t have those facts at the time. I loved Brandon’s ideas around the business. A developer swung by asking what we needed. I had no information for him. Brandon clarified a few things regarding programming for the both of us. I loved having him on the team. Team member 3.
Flavio hailed from Brazil. He walked over, mentioning a few times that he loved the idea. He explained that the jail system is a huge problem in Brazil too. He was quite. He gave his opinions or suggestions softly. He was confident in what he said, and I heard him each time. It seemed he never felt the need t talk for the sake of talking. I liked him. I loved his support for the project. I thought his outside knowledge might come in handy. Team member 4.
Finally, Kendra walked over from another disbanded team. Kendra and I had talked earlier about the idea. She seemed skeptical. She asked tough questions regarding specifics of the idea and the business. She wanted to know how I’d go about changing people’s self-image through a business. I had no answers for her. And I loved that she asked tough questions. When she joined, I had hope that we could focus ourselves and push out a viable product. I felt hopeful for the project. Maybe it was more than I should have hoped for. Either way, I wanted to give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? Team member 5.
We sat down to plan and delegate. I turned to the others for ideas on how to tackle this problem. My first mistake. I was the one that came up with the idea. I arrived at the project through my personal experiences going through the system myself. I also got an ‘inside’ view through law school. The team members looked to me to guide the project. Given our short weekend, the need for guidance became even more critical.
As I lay in bed that night, my mind raced with more ideas. The next morning, I couldn’t wait to get back to the group.
Then came my second mistake. Again, I continued asking others for their thoughts and opinions. Where I needed to focus the group, I instead encouraged discussion. Where I needed to push for action, I asked for ideas. Where I needed to say no to suggestions to tackle housing, legal help, job searches, mentoring, and community-building, I said “sure, let’s think about it.”
Steve Jobs mentioned that focusing is about saying no. Harvard Business Review wrote about a disciplined pursuit of less. I saw the video a while ago. I read the article a few months ago. They made sense. I sought for ways to apply them. Yet it wasn’t until our team fell apart from a lack of focus that I truly understood what they meant.
This past weekend I had an idea and went forward with it. I don’t regret any actions I took. In the end, it turned out to be a great experience simply understanding the importance of focus. I finally began seeing how focusing meant saying no. Returning to law school this past week gave me ample opportunity to practice saying no. For that, I’m grateful. It’s a process, not an event. The more we allow ourselves to try and fail and learn, the more we recognize the truth of such wisdom.
What about you? What’s one way you focused by saying no?