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When Focusing on What you Don’t Know Doesn’t Serve You

Many years ago (though not many, many years ago when dinosaurs still roamed the earth), I read a piece of historical fiction that spoke of how a twelfth-century university conducted its doctoral oral exams. (Please forgive that I cannot provide a citation.)

In that university, the orals were designed to give the candidate a chance to show all he knew. A chance to shine his brightest. A chance to be his best.

I am not used to that spirit in an exam. The exams list what I didn’t learn and what I don’t know. While there is value to patching those holes, I think it is often better to be deep or brilliant in a few areas even if there are some small holes, than to be merely adequate at everything. While there are cases where being adequate at everything is important, should it be our primary focus?

The advantage of being human in a society is that we can cooperate to fill in for each other deficiencies.

Imagine two pitchdecks. One is merely adequate at everything. It even has page numbers and readable fonts.

The other has one truly amazing thing but some other problems.

The first deck will get polite comments, but probably not a second meeting.

That second deck may get some criticism, but it will get the second meeting because we can fix problems (often by adding team members) where there is magic. We can’t infuse magic into the merely adequate.

What is wonderful, special, magic about your startup? Get it into the first 20 seconds and the first two slides. If it is important enough, the other details will get solved.

I’ve seen decks where the magic (millions of dollars of non-dilutive , hundreds of thousands of preorders, incredibly valuable distributors) was relegated to the back of the deck or left out entirely because the template was followed perfectly.

Too often, I fall into the trap of focusing on fixing what is wrong, before looking for what’s right.

But since meeting deadlines wasn’t one of my New Years Resolutions, perhaps focusing first on what’s right can still be added to the list.

Written by Russell Brand

Entrepreneur in residence at Founder Institute, he has mentored, performed due diligence on and invested in numerous early stage companies. Hundreds of these early stage companies have described Russell’s insights and advice as the most useful thing in the history of their companies. He has always had an inborn ability to find more valuable uses of new ideas and faster ways to achieve results.

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