Web3 Masterclass - Achieving Focus w/ Sota Watanabe

June 21, 2023
Beacon Core Contributors
Web3 Masterclasses

Great things happen when a company achieves perfect alignment of culture and vision. Teams work more efficiently, products ship faster, and once difficult decisions now seem easy to make.  At Beacon, we describe this alignment at your company as focus.

Last cohort, Sota Watanabe, Founder of Astar Network, spoke to our cohort about the importance of finding focus. In this Web3 Masterclass, we’ll share how Sota found focus at Astar by making tough decisions to ensure he had the right alignment of culture and product vision.

The Founder Sets the Vision

At Beacon, we teach that founders are responsible for three things – 1) building great teams, 2) ensuring that your project does not run out of money, and 3) setting the company’s direction and vision. When Astar was founded, the vision was very different from what it is today.  Initially, Astar was called Plasm. The vision for Plasm was much smaller. Specifically, it was just one L2 focused in the Polkadot ecosystem, whereas Astar was focused on becoming a full public blockchain for Japan supporting Polkadot, EVM, and WebAssembly. Plasm was not the grand project Sota had set out to create, and as the project slowly grew, he could not help but shake the feeling that Plasm was not the grand project he wanted to build.

So, in 2021, he decided to pivot. Sota completely changed the direction of the company and doubled down on building Astar into Japan’s leading blockchain protocol. While this was certainly a scary decision, Sota exemplified the bold and confident leadership that founders need to have when they realize the current iteration of their company is not what they wanted to build.

As a founder, when you realize your project’s vision is no longer viable, it is your responsibility to make the decision to pivot, and to do so quickly. The best founders are nimble, they are able to adapt to market conditions, iterate quickly, and pull the plug on initiatives that don’t pan out as intended. Sota did just that with his pivot to Astar.

When Culture and Vision Align

Astar’s pivot was more than just a vision change however. In addition to changing the direction of the company, Sota also realized that he needed to align his company’s culture with this new vision for the company. 

When Sota made the pivot, Astar had multiple executives that had no interest in building a public blockchain. The ambition to build a decentralized protocol is very different from running a web3 agency. The energy and hunger needed to build a protocol is much different than the careful, methodical temperament usually held at consulting firms. Sota knew that to pull off this new, bold direction, he would need a team that was 100% on board with his vision. These executives did not fit the new Astar. So, Sota made the incredibly difficult decision to let three top leaders go in order to make sure he had focus at his company.. 

While it may seem like a straightforward decision for a founder, make no mistake, Sota describes this as the hardest decision he’s had to make as a founder. However, he now knows that it was ultimately the catalyst for Astar’s success. With a leaner, focused team that was committed to the new direction, scale was so much easier to achieve. And now, Sota spends much more time screening candidates for culture before hiring. Everyone who joins Astar has to be directly aligned with the vision of the protocol to ensure they maintain the focus they worked so hard to achieve.

Going back to the responsibilities of a founder, the first concept we mentioned is that founders are responsible for building great teams. A great team is not just assembling the best talent, but assembling top talent equipped to achieve the vision you have set out for your project. Note here that your vision can change! And sometimes, the people you hired before pivoting are not the right people for your project after pivoting. Again, the ability to be nimble and quickly asses the team/vision fit is something founders must be equipped to do.

A Flow State for Companies

If founders can learn one thing from Sota, it is that you need to make sure your culture and vision are aligned. A mismatch leads to a lack of focus and discord at your company that will handicap your ability to be nimble and tackle challenges. On the other hand, alignment leads to a clear focus at your company. Everyone is rowing in the same direction, it is like a flow state for your project. For founders, you should always be tracking and evaluating the level of focus at your company. When you achieve it, you’ll finally be able to take your project to the next level.

Disclaimer: This post is meant to provide general information only, and should not be used to evaluate the merits of any investment decision. It should not be taken as financial, accounting, legal or tax advice, nor should it be relied upon to recommend any investment. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors at the time of writing and do not necessarily represent the views of Beacon or its affiliates or any individuals associated with Beacon. These opinions are subject to change without notice.