Now that you are done reading those glorious “reflecting back on 2015” kinda posts, I am giving you an altogether different one to read. For me, 2015 was the year of fighting distractions.
A lot was going on at WebEngage last year. We were undergoing a massive change to re-launch WebEngage as a multi-channel customer engagement platform. I am super excited to tell you that at the onset of 2016, my team finally achieved that goal. Check out this beautiful post by Inc42 on our re-launch.
However, it wasn’t all as easy as it seems. There were so many distractions in 2015 that kept coming our way.
Looking back, these were 3 BIG ones.
1. The media euphoria
Every startup was making news in 2015, except for the fact that they were all consumer internet or COOL startups. Some were in the news for funding and others for the lack of it. Some were in news because they hired by the hundreds, while others made news because they fired by the hundreds.
I cared less about all of the above; until, of-course, the time when these events lead to a heightened sense of “fear of missing out” in me. In a country like India, print media is still relevant and is considered “authentic”. These journalists didn’t realize that they are creating a consumer bias in reader’s mind, thereby drastically hampering prospective hiring and brand building for the boring enterprise and b2b businesses being created in India.
People consider lack of hype as lack of ambition. Fighting that common notion is an uphill task. There kicks in the distraction!
2. The surge of copycats
For every well executed business idea, there would be a dozen copycats in almost no time. And if you operate in a crowded space like marketing automation — good luck!
For established categories (like customer support, email marketing etc), this doesn’t impact much if you have an early mover advantage with a good product. With WebEngage, we were creating a new category; and then we had to cope up with the surge of these copycats — some of them being shameless enough to use our website and marketing content, as is, on theirs. Funnily, a bunch of them chose names sounding similar to ours. A large chunk of these companies came up in India and a couple in the US & Israel.
Some of the above also managed to secure funding. There comes in the distraction! From the coolest and always in “top 10 lists”, WebEngage became a fat-ass incumbent ready to be disrupted! Nobody knew that we weren’t fighting with these competitors in the very first place. But then, as I said before, its hard to challenge the popular notion.
Thankfully, my team was focused on the primary goal — creating customer delight!
3. Overcoming the “moonshot inertia”
There is no such term, I just made it up!
Moonshots, 10x leap … all these terms are used for large companies that are able to move with startup like pace when it comes to building stuff.
In a running business, this is extremely hard to do. And believe me, it’s not for the lack of intent. We have thousands of customers from across globe. They love what they use and there’s a team that loves to make and sell that software.
Challenging both of them (customers and team) to change this state of love is a very difficult thing to do. Invariably, any moonshot attempt is perceived of as a distraction. It took us good 9–12 months to re-launch WebEngage. If I had to do it from scratch, we’d have pulled it off in less than 3 months.
With all the focus we had on the re-launch, it was still a nightmare to prioritize tasks. Without the focus, I can’t even imagine. That’s precisely the reason why it is rare to see companies that can take giant leaps. I aspire to build one of those.
Knowing you are distracted is the first step. Most fall in that trap unknowingly. There are a few things that have worked for me. Here’s my 101 guide to fight distractions!
a. Being disillusioned
Not every thing that you see around you is truth. People say things even when they don’t mean it. And, there’s nothing wrong with it. People evolve. You need to evolve too. The key thing here is to find out what’s important. What is that you should lose your sleep over? Most distracted people would lose it for almost anything and everything. Disillusionment helps in keeping you focused on the bigger goal. Competition, rouge customer, badass boss .. none of that would matter if you are disillusioned.
So, next time when you come across stuff like -
5 ways to lose weight
21 tips to improve your sales by 305%
3 tips from a VC to run your business
6 tips from a founder to run your VC fund
Story of an entrepreneur who battled cancer to create a $100B company
.. take all of that with a pinch of salt. I am sorry to break the news to you — none of that is going to change anything. Be disillusioned. Read less and do more — you can achieve all of the above by focusing and working towards the task, rather than getting distracted by some random train of thought.
One of the hacks that I have applied to myself — Twitter has become the ONLY source of “discovering” content for me. Anything which is good enough and worth reading, will surely show up in my timeline. If something doesn’t show up, it is probably not worth the time. It comes with a risk and fear of missing out, but I have to tell you that it does work.
b. Being on a mission
First and foremost, please have a mission in life. For some it’s about working for a good life, for some it’s about buying a house, for me it is about building an ever-growing enterprise. Find yours. The stronger and bigger that mission is, the lesser the distraction would be.
When on a mission, terms like can, maybe, should, but .. lose their significance.
That said, having a mission is not enough. Getting the stakeholders (your team, family, investors etc) aligned and execute per that mission is a BIG challenge. I have seen large companies fail at it, let alone individuals or startups. The thing is called communication. It’s a very hard thing to perfect (recommended read: the curse of knowledge).
c. Being organized
This one is a bit philosophical. Most people I know, are heavily unorganized in their lives and work. And here’s a candid confession, so am I. I worked on it extensively last year to get better. Whether it’s about scheduling meetings or organizing files, I see real funny ways in how people accomplish such tasks. Most don’t even realize the downsides of a cluttered life. It kills your productivity. Also, it is extremely hard to focus on the core task if you are spending a whole lot of your time on “searching” for stuff to finish that task. I have gotten much better at organizing myself, except for the fact that I still don’t use WhatsApp. Let software eat your world, atleast for work.
Just like how there’s no silver bullet to improve your sales by 305%, there cannot be a 101 guide to tackle distractions. On the contrary, I managed to distract you with a 15min long read :-)
Wish you more focus and less distractions in 2016 and beyond. Go, win!