What Should Startups Focus On?

People at a table in a meeting.

In the early days of launching your startup, it's easy to feel like you're being pulled in multiple different directions. Between focusing on advertising, seeking funding, perfecting your product, and building a team, it just seems like everything needs to get done at once. Of course, that's just not possible, and you have to narrow down your focus to achieve anything at all. 

So what should startups focus on first?

Top 7 Things Startups Should Focus On

With so many activities vying for your attention as a startup founder, prioritizing your focus is the key to success. From target markets to adaptability — these are the top seven aspects of business-building startup founders should focus on. 

1. Understanding Your Target Market

Every decision you make as a startup founder needs to be focused on your target market. It is this market, after all, that is going to drive your sales and, ultimately, your startup's success. To make decisions that benefit your target market, though, you need to deeply understand it. Who is your ideal customer persona? Where do they live, work, and hang out? In understanding your target market, you should be able to picture the exact type of person that would be your ideal customer persona. 

This is not just a once-off activity, though. As your business grows and changes, so will your target market, and many different factors may contribute to slight changes in that market that make a big difference. Focused and ongoing connections with your target market must be a priority.

2. Creating a Good Company Culture

The strength of your startup's team can make or break your business. For your team to truly serve your target market and be ambassadors for your startup, your company culture needs to be strong. A positive and consistent company culture will motivate employees to help your startup succeed, so this really needs to be a major focus for any startup founder.

More businesses are now offering hybrid and remote working options. If your startup is one of them, culture is going to be even more important to ensure you are able to build a unified team with a single shared focus, no matter where they are in the world.

3. A Well-Thought-Out Budget

Finances are always a major concern for any startup, and a well-thought-out budget is key to ensuring you have enough financial runway for your startup to take off from. There are always ways to reduce costs, but finding space in the budget for something you hadn't initially considered is far more difficult. Ensure that you research the types of costs related to your specific industry, including production, logistics, marketing, and employment, so that you don't forget anything vital.

4. Consistent Branding and Marketing Strategies

Branding is a powerful part of your startup's story. It's what tells the world who you are as a company, and if your branding is inconsistent or confusing, that tells a story too, just not the one you want to hear. Developing marketing strategies for your startup definitely needs to be a priority. You can most certainly start small on the marketing front. There's no need to launch a multimillion-dollar television ad campaign for your two-month-old startup, but do you have a website? 

Marketing strategies are going to be different for various industries, too, so be sure to pay attention to what your competitors or established industry leaders are doing. Far too many startups think that their amazing products will market themselves or that marketing is just an unnecessary line on the budget—ignore brand and marketing at your peril. 

5. Networking Opportunities

If the word “networking” gives you nightmare images of banal cocktail parties and small talk, think again. Networking doesn't have to trigger social anxiety, and it's actually a vital part of building a business. Focus on building networks with the people you interact with regularly — suppliers, customers, mentors, industry experts, and investors. Having a strong network to call on can help with advice, insights, and guidance when you're making important decisions about your startup. 

6. Finding Investors

As a new startup, one of the most important activities you'll undertake is finding the right people to invest in your business. There are some very basic practicalities around finding investors, including creating a digital presence for your business and getting onto investment databases, but there are also other aspects that need to be considered. Attracting the attention of investors is one thing; keeping their attention long enough to seal the deal is quite another. 

For your startup to be attractive to investors, you need to deeply understand what you have to offer (your value proposition), exactly where you are right now, and where you are going. All the other elements on our list will be key to finding and keeping investors too.

7. Aiming to be Adaptable

When starting your business, you really need to define what your non-negotiables are going to be. For many startup founders, the things they aren't willing to back down on are going to involve the deep “why” of their business—the whole reason you started it in the first place. Once you understand what you aren't willing to negotiate on, everything else needs to be adaptable. 

No matter how much planning you do, there are always going to be unexpected events and glitches. Expect the unexpected, and be willing to adapt. Markets change. The world goes through economic and other shifts that you can't always anticipate. You need to be willing and ready to move your own goalposts in line with those changes. "Adapt or die" has never been quite as relevant as in the startup landscape.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I decide on a growth strategy?

The strategy you plot out for the growth of your startup is going to depend on a few factors, including your value proposition, target market, and business goals. Additionally, you’ll want to include your social media and content marketing strategies in this decision-making process as well. Once you’ve firmed up these elements, the strategy you’ll take will become clearer. 

What are the top three mistakes startup founders make?

Sometimes, learning from the failures of others is even more powerful than learning from their successes. The top three mistakes many startup founders make include not having a clear vision or purpose, attempting to focus on too many aspects of their offering at one time, and not taking a user-centered approach to solutions. 

How important is timing in launching my startup?

While you can certainly work on your business while the market warms up to the idea, often, timing can make or break a startup. You can have the most progressive concept in the world, but if the industry is not ready to be disrupted, you might run out of runway before your startup plane takes off. Deeply understanding the dynamics of your industry is key here.