Where to Play


The most common myth in entrepreneurship can lead your startup to a dead end!

One of the most common advice startups get as they begin their entrepreneurial journey is to adopt a “laser sharp”focus approach. And the reason for that is crystal clear: startups are so limited in their human and financial resources thatthey must concentrate on a narrow strategic path. They simply cannot spread themselves too thin.

But this piece of advice may actually be misleading, and in some cases even detrimental. The reason for that is also quite clear: a very narrow focus may lock you in, and come at the expense of flexibility. Stephen Kaufer, Co-Founder of TripAdvisor, expressed this clearly in one of his interviews: “If you are lightning focused on just one thing and aren’t willing to consider others, you probably don’t have the flexibility to make it when things don’t go according to plan. That’s the one truism: things won’t go according to plan”(Founders at Work/ Jessica Livingston).

In fact, in a study that examined early market choices of startups, we found that the most successful companies made sure to keep some options open, so they don’t get trapped. In other words, they were able to balance focus and flexibility and maintain both with a smart strategy. We term it the Agile Focus Strategy.

To guide entrepreneurs how to design such Agile Focus Strategy, we developed the Market Opportunity Navigator– a visual framework with 3 steps to map out your markets and set a smart strategic focus.

The 1ststep of this tool helps entrepreneurs to uncover different target markets for their innovation. It provides a structured framework to this messy discovery process. Having options at hand is critical for balancing focus and flexibility down the road.

The 2ndstep of the Market Opportunity Navigator helps entrepreneurs to evaluate which markets are more or less attractive for them. By estimating the potential of your opportunities and the challenge in pursuing them, you can compare different target markets and discover your most valuable ones. This is essential for choosing your primary focus.

The 3rdand last step of this tool guides managers how to set a strategy that will also keep them agile. The logic of this step is to carefully select opportunities that you keep open as backup or growth options. Designing this smart portfolio around your primary market ensures that you don’t get locked-in if change or adaptation is required.

Overall, this easy-to-apply framework can help you win the game, especially when you are playing in an uncertain environment. It will enable you to mitigateyour risk with limited effort — a critical value for innovative startups. So if you want to increase your chances of success, forget “laser sharp focus”and learn to adopt an Agile Focus approach.

A free online course is now available if you wish to learn more about the Market Opportunity Navigator and how to structure the process of choosing your target markets. You can learn more and enroll at go.epfl.ch/findyourmarkets. Good luck!

Sharon Tal, co-author with Marc Gruber of Where to Play: 3 Steps For Discovering Your Most Valuable Market Opportunities,is one of the co-founders and former executive director of the Entrepreneurship Center at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, and a well-recognized lecturer on marketing for high-tech start-ups. She conducts seminars and workshops on a regular basis to students and start-ups, and serves as a mentor in many organizations that aim to help budding entrepreneurs. Tal has vast experience in marketing and has served as a marketing manager for firms in several industries. She also has extensive experience in strategy consulting. Her PhD research investigated the market entry decisions of hundreds of start-ups and their consequences on firm performance and flexibility.

For more information, please visit www.WhereToPlay.co.



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