Activant's Greene Street Observer No.13

On the importance of focus, and Activant's upcoming Women in Tech event

Founders, Partners, and Friends,

The best companies have a few things in common. One is that founders and management teams can spot inefficiencies, whether through luck or because they know a sector extremely well - they can find the small seams and drive that wedge that eventually builds a bigger business.

The attribute that we want to discuss today is focus. Exceptional leaders have an uncanny ability to absolutely and maniacally focus on a single thing, task, strategy, or product for a very long time until moving to the next. 

Focus is one of the easiest attributes to flush out. In founder meetings, we like to ask about product extensions or new markets. We ask about the company expanding into this or that market just to see what the CEO or founder says. If the founder or team entertains our ideas, it can be a concern. The best founders respond with something that acknowledges our question but brings back that focus, like “That is interesting, but we want to focus on our core X or Y.” 

This also applies to the company’s entire organization. For instance, when we ask the VP of customer success what they are focused on and just sit back, listen, and see how long they talk. Often if those providing leadership are not focused, distractions can run like water downhill through the organization - and it is so damn apparent. In these cases, management team members will talk for ten minutes about their priorities, rather than 30 seconds.

I like to invoke imagery of the Japanese makers of swords, sushi, whiskey, etc.. It takes years of focus to produce the best outcome. Generally focusing on one thing doesn’t bring that instant gratification or instant feedback loop you get from video games. It can be more fun and it can feel more productive to kick off a new initiative rather than waiting for the benefit that comes with years of hard work on a single initiative.

We see it with companies both past and present. Lack of focus can be exacerbated when new trends emerge - like today with AI. As a corollary, when the internet was more widely available in 1994, companies had similar issues of what to offer with the new technology at their fingertips. In the case of Yahoo, management teams can get spread too thin, trying to be everything to everyone - vs. those that focus like the following:

Amazon just sold books and that is all they did until they got it right and expanded. Google started with search. Forcing that kind of focus is a hard decision but harder to execute and manage. It is so much more intellectually stimulating for you and your team to bounce around. Bouncing around is something that needs to be earned in our opinion.

Besides getting instant feedback, there are a myriad of other reasons why focus is difficult. When there are seemingly ample opportunities for growth, attacking multiple fronts can seem like a form of risk mitigation. It actually has the opposite effect of spreading resources and team members too thin. A mentor once said the most important thing is to get out there and compete every day without giving up. The compounding effects of competing in the same vector or vertical for years eventually pays off.

Let’s go! 🚀

Steve Sarracino

Founder & Partner

Introducing Activant Quick Takes: A new category of research that gives you bite-sized insights! In our first Quick Take, we look at the challengers addressing a $50B problem in the US alone… Demand Forecasting. Today,

  • 75% of supply chains still rely on spreadsheets

  • 5 billion pounds of retail in the US end up in landfills annually

  • The average enterprise market solution rollout is about 2.8 years

Read more about our view on solving the pain points and pathways to success in this market. And if you’re building in this space, reach out to our author Rebecca!

  • We held our annual Cape Town Soiree at our beautiful South Africa Office in partnership with BOOOM, gathering the Cape Town and Berlin communities.

  • We hosted a dinner in the heart of Munich with investors, founders, and operators within the industrial tech space. Thanks to Josh and Maxi for putting this together!

  • Coming up: Our Women in Tech Happy Hour in NYC is happening February 22nd. To attend, RSVP at the link below. We hope to see you there!

Activant is a research-focused global investment firm that partners with high-growth companies, transforming the way the world makes, moves, and sells.

Founded in 2015, Activant has invested in category-defining companies like Deliverr (acq. by Shopify), Hybris (acq. by SAP), Bolt, Better, Celonis, Sardine, and many more.

The firm has $1.5B assets under management and is headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut, with offices in New York City, Berlin, and Cape Town.

The Greene Street Observer is published monthly from Activant’s office on Greene Street in New York City.