The 7 Bad Habits of Startup Founders
Founder & Principal Consultant, Guru on Tap Consulting
So, we have all read about and try to implement the 7 good habits as articulated by renowned author Stephen Covey in his book. Of course, how well have we understood what he wants to say and how effective are we in implementing them, is the topic of an article not yet written by me.
The topic of this article is the 7 “Bad” habits, that many founders display, which has a strong negative impact on the success of their startups.
However, before I start, let me clarify that the “bad” habits I mention, are exceptions and not the rule. Most of the founders have got it right and display few or none of the bad habits. But as all founders are human, they do also have areas of concern, and the purpose of this article to help founders improve and not criticize them. Just to share, I too had and continue to have some of the bad habits, and acknowledging them and working on them has led to positive outcomes in my life.
Now, when I started thinking about my own experiences, earlier as an employee for nearly 25 years and then both as a Startup Founder ( with an exit, mind you ) and a Consultant ( Founder of Guru on Tap Consulting) along with numerous books & articles that I have read over time, I realized that there are probably more like 70 bad habits rather than 7…however, after detailed analysis, I could distill them down to the 7 “ killer” bad habits that one should avoid like the plague.
So, people, here they are, one by one, for you to identify in yourself and drop from your persona, ASAP.
1. Dreaming too much, without much action
Every founder likes to believe that he/she is the “most” passionate founder that ever was. That the rest were driven by mere trivial pursuits, be it wealth, value, ego, etc. and only he/she is the true “dreamer” who has identified what’s really wrong with this world and have found an innovative, all solving cure or “mantra”. GREAT….
Now the problem with the above, even if it were to be true, is not in the “dream” but in the needed actions or lack thereof. I have seen a lot of founders, with a faraway look on their faces, who wander about spouting their Dream or their vision and have poor little to say about what to “Do” to convert their dreams to realities.
“THE WORLD NEEDS DREAMERS AND THE WORLD NEEDS DOERS. BUT ABOVE ALL, THE WORLD NEEDS DREAMERS WHO DO “
Sarah Ban Breathnach
So, guys, continue dreaming, and that is a MUST for every founder, but don’t stop at dreaming. Start working. Having a clear mission plan is the mandatory and logical part of the vision which together will ensure success.
2. Delaying the creation of systems & processes
Many founders fall prey to the concept of “winging it” as it is considered cool or hip. Planning is for the nerds is the adage many live by.
While it is true that in the early days of any startup, the rules are fairly relaxed, the team is small, the energy is boundless, many have left their jobs and are happy to live in shorts & t-shirts, clients are few and deadlines mean cutting corners on cumbersome practices, this phase cannot and should not last.
“IF YOU CAN’T DESCRIBE WHAT YOU ARE DOING AS A PROCESS, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING”
W Edwards Demming
Systems and processes are the backbones of all successful startups and some of the coolest and hippest startups have the best systems and processes. They ensure that performance parameter and met and vision & mission are achieved. They are a vital ingredient in scaling.
3. Too narrow a focus
Many founders are so focused on only one goal or objective, say product launch or 1st paying client acquisition, etc., that they lose sight of the other important and at times crucial goals/activities. This can result in an abrupt derailment of the successful journey of the startup.
Too sharp a focus can also alienate co-founders/team members who have functional roles that do not necessarily have only that goal. For e.g. a narrow and limited focus on the goal of product launch may alienate people owning a business, commercial, or operations.
So, the right way is to define a primary goal, along with other linear and parallel goals, which ensure that whole startup is engaged productively. Care has to taken to ensure that the number of goals is just right, not too few or too many. Also, goal setting should be dynamic with time and situation.
Many founders confuse focus with interference and end up being guilty of micromanagement. Many others feel that just the fact that they are the founder means that they have competence in all functions and roles within the startup and hence they must “manage” it else nobody else will.
Micromanagement sends very wrong signals across the startup as others perceive it as interference, lack of confidence or in the worst case, distrust. Also, it stresses the founder/s too as they end up having too much on their plate, thereby affecting their own performance and the performance of the startup.
“IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE TO HIRE SMART PEOPLE AND THEN TELL THEM WHAT TO DO. WE HRE SMART PEOPLE SO THAT THEY CAN TELL US WHAT TO DO”
Micromanagement is a behavior which is not limited to inter-personal interaction only. Getting involved with data and/or activities at too granular a level, is also micromanagement, which is undesirable.
The good way is to create empowered and engaged teams, align with them on desired outcomes & activities, and then allow them to do their job their way. Governance should be limited to periodic reviews, which should be crisp and focused on root cause analysis and corrective actions.
Also, MIS systems should be structured to be indicative of underlying trends, at a summary level, with the need to go granular only in case of serious deviations. Something like a “ nadi pariksha” in Ayurveda, which gives the doctor an overall idea of the health as well as inputs on serious symptoms to be further investigated.
5. Being too reactive
This is another bad habit where many founders confuse customer centricity with being too reactive. It is right to listen to customers and other relevant inputs, but to react to every stimulus and keep on doing course correction perpetually, is a sure recipe for disaster.
This bad habit is also manifested internally particularly around people practices. Many founders want to genuinely seen as people friendly and try hard to foster a great working environment. However, being too sensitive to inputs from people, without validating for relevance and impact, can result in frequent policy changes, which result in a demotivated and confused workforce.
“REACTIVE PEOPLE ARE OFTEN AFFECTED BY THEIR PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT. THEY FIND EXTERNAL SOURCES TO BLAME FOR THEIR BEHAVIOR”
What can be done is to ensure adequate attention & focus, while planning anything and validate the same for a statistically valid and numerically representative target population. It is better to be proactive and anticipate future problems and plan for the same. Also, changes are part of any process and the same should be proactively planned at the right time and opportunity.
6. No personal time
This is another BIG bad habit. Many founders get too involved in their startups, for reasons varying from focus to FOMO to needs to passion to trend and many others and end up having no personal time. There is a lot of peer pressure from the ecosystem which forces the founder to be or look “involved” at all times.
Most founders are workaholics but sadly end up focusing more on quantity rather than quality of their work. They don’t realize that working beyond a certain point actually is seriously detrimental to performance and can result in poor work and/or poor decision making.
“DON’T CONFUSE HAVING A CAREER WITH HAVING A LIFE”
This habit puts unreasonable pressure within the startup on other co-founders/team members, who get don’t want to be seen as laggards. Some others feel that they are misfits and leave the startup.
Working too hard can have serious impact on the health of the person, both physical and mental and can harm relations with family & friends too.
It is important to try to work out a balance, which differs from person to person, but needed nevertheless. It is also important to note that life is not limited to the startup and a balanced life is actually better for the startup.
7. Attending too many startup events
Many founders get caught up in the bug of trying to be too visible or create too much buzz and accordingly end up attending just too many events. They forget that creating actual value is the best way for any startup rather than meeting people at events and talking about their startups.
The urge to attend events is driven by legit needs of networking, investor connect, trend spotting, competitor activity mapping etc. but the secret sauce is moderation. There are enough examples of extremely visible startup founders who have had to fold up their startups as they were too busy networking and forgot about working.
It is advisable to evaluate each event deeply against the paradigms of relevance & value and fix a certain budget of time and money. A far higher budget should be allocated to actually working on/for the startup.
Guru on Tap Consulting
(Disclaimer: the views presented in the above article are of the individual writer only)