The Importance of Focus and Knowing When to Pivot

I’ve written a number of posts in the past about the importance of focus. It’s been the biggest challenge for someone like me who really is interested in a million different things. While this has been one of the biggest challenges for me over the years I am excited to say that I think I’ve finally made the pivot I’ve been looking for.

The epiphany I’ve had about focus over the last couple years is that increasing focus doesn’t mean doing less, but it does mean adding more resources. Think of a retail store. If you want to sell just a few products in a small store you can get-away with doing it all yourself. However, if your store grows and your product mix grows, and you start to get more customers, it’s time to add more staff and potentially expand into a bigger building.

The same has been true with my business. Rewind to 2009 and I was still trying to do everything myself. That was the year that I realized that if I wanted to focus I had to hire people to run some of the exciting projects I was running. Now in 2011 I’ve learned that I needed to hire even more, and I am. While I have a number of projects going on, so do many companies, and I’m doing what many companies do as they scale, hire more people and increase the resources available to all of us.

When you are scaling a business and doing more it all comes down to finding good people. This is hard. By far this has been the biggest challenge for me, hiring people that do great work and can be trusted to do great work every week without a ton of time and input from me. I was lucky enough to find Kevin Fink last year who has become a critical part of my business. Along with Kevin I have found some great people to run some of my top brands, and I’m still hiring!

As for me, yes, my company is doing more than ever, but it’s a business and I’m proud to say that if I go on vacation for a month, the gears keep turning and the system keeps running. It is so important that people differentiate between running a business and being self-employed. I have never had any dreams of being self-employed – here’s the difference between the two.

Self-Employed – you work for yourself which means that if you’re not working, money is not coming in. The classic example of this in the domain space is a broker. If a broker takes 6-months off, there are no sales for six-months. In the real world there are a million examples of being self-employed, many Doctors, Lawyers, Therapists, etc. are self-employed. My Dad is a great example of this – he runs an incredible Psychotherapy practice in the Bay Area, he has helped a lot of people and I have always been really proud of what he has built. Still, he has always considered himself self-employed, and he is, if he doesn’t see clients for a week, the money doesn’t come in. The same is true for Doctors and Lawyers that start their own practice, if a Doctor isn’t seeing patients, the money is not coming in – it’s that simple.

Business-Owner – you still work however you are building a system that at some point (maybe not right away) the business can run without you. Think of any major business, it still runs and makes money even if the CEO goes on vacation. Of course the CEO can’t leave completely, a business still needs a CEO, but if the CEO or Microsoft, Oracle, Proctor and Gamble, etc. goes on vacation, the business still generates money just like it always does.

Outside of my blog, my business runs whether I am here or not. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s easy to build a business, it’s not. I am coming-up on the four year anniversary of starting my business and it’s taken years of trying, failing, and trying again to get to the model I have right now. Also my business doesn’t bring in millions of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it is on track to break the $100K mark this year which I’m pretty happy about. Not enough to buy a Ferrari, or even afford a three bedroom two bath house in LA, but it is a great income stream and is helping to make my next venture possible…and that is where the pivot comes in.

What has made this so fun for me is that now I get to really focus. At the moment I am working on one, that’s right, one project – Xelot. I am eating, sleeping, and breathing Xelot, we are building an incredible software company that currently has four employees but I’m sure will continue to grow over time. As you have probably seen from my blog posts lately, my focus here has shifted towards startup companies and conferences like Startup Lessons Learned where I can better understand how other people have started software companies. It’s a whole new world and as usual, I’m loving every minute of it!

I am also having fun in an advisory role (this means giving advice not doing work) with a new brand that Kevin Fink will be launching next week. Kevin has done an amazing job since he started working for Linton Investments and I can honestly say we wouldn’t be where we are today with him! He is building a truly great business and many of the lessons I’ve learned launching my brands over the years are helping him avoid some of the mistakes that I myself have made.

So now if you look at my typical day, here is what it looks like:

  • Morning – 30-45 minutes writing a post for my blog
  • Day – working my day job which I absolutely love! (if you don’t love your day job, find a new job!)
  • Evening – Xelot

That’s it! Notice I no longer have a million projects, you won’t hear me talk about a zillion different sites I’m working on, domains I’m buying, etc. That is still happening, but I’m not doing it, I’ve hired great people that are doing that now so that I can focus on Xelot.

We are getting office space at CoLoft in Santa Monica which will be the new Xelot HQ where we work on evenings and one weekend day. Will it take-off overnight? No way. Building a software company is a lot of hard work but since we love what we’re building it doesn’t feel like work at all.

I look forward to sharing this next stage in my adventure with all of you. I’ll still be talking about Domaining, it absolutely is a passion of mine and I still believe a much better investment strategy than stocks, bonds, or real estate. That being said you’ll see my posts also sharing the experience of what it’s like to run an lean startup. As you all know, I’m no millionaire, we are bootstrapping this company and building it using all of our own money.

We are in for a wild ride, we might burn through money that I’ve been saving up for years, my future could involve more Ramen than I’d like, but it’s an adventure we are looking forward to and the satisfaction of funding this ourselves is absolutely worth it. Just about every penny from my Domaining business will go-into Xelot so as my business continues to grow, as will Xelot’s funding. As always I will not sugar-coat but instead will tell you what’s working for us, and what isn’t. I’ve never been shy about sharing my failures with all of you, they are all part of the journey.

Get ready folks, the pivot has been made and I look forward, as always, to sharing my adventure with all of you!

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Ryan Gruenwald May 26, 2011, 9:31 am

    Morgan,

    Great post man, I share the same challenges of working a day job and finding it difficult to prioritize & focus on 1 single task/website/project on night and weekends. In the end its always the same rule for me, whatever motivates me the most is what i work on.

  • Adi May 26, 2011, 10:48 am

    Great post! You really can inspire people to find time and work on their dreams. And I also love how you said some of your projects/ideas have failed but that’s an important step in order to learn what might or will work.

    I myself am working on a few projects and some of they seem not to be worth the time but I don’t want to give up until I’m done with them. Giving up work/projects is very easy but getting them done is not.

    Good luck,
    Adi

    • Morgan May 26, 2011, 11:49 am

      Thanks @Adi and @Ryan – really appreciate the positive feedback. These are exciting times!!

  • Owen May 26, 2011, 12:22 pm

    See my new website http://frager.us under about us and then talent
    I see myself like a general contractor who fins the very best tile men and painters and cabinet makers and brings out their best your strength is as a football coach or symphony conductor who knows how to bring out the best from the players

    • Morgan May 26, 2011, 3:43 pm

      Thanks @Owen – I love the new site! You’ve got a great track-record with some really stellar companies, we should definitely talk more!!

  • Grant May 26, 2011, 6:27 pm

    Morgan,

    Good post, and glad to see Kevin having success, he is a great guy. You guys going on cruise this year?

    Main reason of comment is why the name Xelot? Sounds hard to say/spell, coming from a domaining background thought you would target an easier name. Something special about it?

    • Morgan May 26, 2011, 6:30 pm

      Thanks for the comment @Grant!

      Xelot is just a codename for the algorithm right now. The final service will be released under a different name, and yes, it will be something easy to remember, spell, etc.

  • Anders May 27, 2011, 4:29 am

    Hey Morgan. What do you think about the latest SEO-buff ruckus?http://www.seobook.com/category-killer-domain-names

    • Morgan May 27, 2011, 5:07 pm

      @Anders – I agree with a lot of what is being said here, but I’ve been saying this for a while now 🙂

  • PPC Ian May 27, 2011, 12:34 pm

    Morgan,
    Quite inspirational! Very excited to hear about your success. I too am increasing my focus on my top site that brings in 60+% of my revenue. My path is a little different, however, that I’m trying to keep employees down to extract as much margin as possible in the short run (and because I can’t give up control of my prized websites:-) ). Exciting times! Let’s catch up one of these days, soon!
    All the best,
    Ian

    • Morgan May 27, 2011, 5:07 pm

      Thanks @Ian! Very exciting times, looking forward to catching-up!