Entrepreneurs: Keep your Eyes on the Road

One of the great hazards for any founder of a new enterprise, seasoned entrepreneurs say, is the distractions. Distractions in the form of opportunities and detours that can lure the founder away from the core mission in search of easy money or markets.

“When you start a new enterprise, check your distractions at the door and stay focused on your vision,” says Gustavo Mamão, SF ’11, founder of the Brazilian startup Flourish. “Remind yourself why you have launched the business and check each decision against that original vision. Entrepreneurship is a long and winding journey. You must continually keep your vision in mind and not get distracted by the shiny objects along the road.”

Alan Yan, SF ’07, is founder of several successful enterprises, including AdChina, which was acquired by Alibaba in 2015. He says he’s come to realize that even success can cloud vision. “Keep working toward your core mission. Keep your eyes on that prize. Very often when entrepreneurs experience initial success, they think they are invincible. In that flush of enthusiasm, they branch out in many different directions, following up on any attractive opportunity, losing sight of their key objectives and core mission. Remember,” he cautions, “It’s better to be a leader in one marketplace, than an idle dabbler in many.”

Stick to your goal—but stay open to new ways of getting there

Of course, staying focused doesn’t mean that you must never vary from your original course. “It’s all about resilience,” Mamão notes. “Be open to recognizing decision points that may alter your course but will give you a better shot at achieving your original vision.”

Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert, PhD, SF ’12, agrees. One of the most important traits of a successful entrepreneur, she says, is the tendency to keep an eye out for anything that can help realize that vision and grow the business even better. “Be open to everything and everyone. Talk to people. Listen. Don’t close yourself up with your vision.”

Serial entrepreneur Nadia Shalaby, PhD, SF ’10, CEO of ITE Fund, notes that one way to stay focused is to set milestones and keep to them. Exercise creative problem solving, explore new ways of achieving your goal, but do it on schedule. “Don’t establish open-ended timelines. Set a tight but reasonable schedule for achieving each aspect of your business plan—exploring concept, obtaining funding, making a certain number of sales. If you cannot meet those milestones, you’re getting a reality check about the viability of your business.”

Read more advice from entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs in the MIT Sloan Fellows Newsletter.