As Founders sometimes the greatest burden that leads to sleepless nights isn't the weight of guiding our companies to success, it's in figuring out how to maintain a balance between our professional and personal lives. When you're at the head of a team within a large company it's easier to leave work stresses in the workplace and home stresses at home because the line between professional and personal is so clearly defined. When you've invested all of your passion, talent, and energy, into building a company of your own, however, that line starts to blur and all of a sudden the anxiety that develops in the office can continue to develop when you're with your family, and vice versa. The bad news is that there's no cure-all for dealing with the typical anxieties that plague us as Founders on a daily basis, the good news is that, as a Founder, you're the type of person who's most ready and willing to shoulder these burdens and turn today's setbacks into tomorrow's success.
The typical cliché about Founders is that they're visionaries, and this is true for the most part. But being a true visionary also means looking in places that you didn't think to look before or didn't even want to. Too often we can get stuck on the wrong path and don't consider elements around ourselves that are contributing to the challenges we face every day, and in it's in that spirit I'd like to present five challenges that I think are particularly important for startup Founders to consider. This is by no means an exhaustive list, rather, each challenge relates to setbacks that I've dealt with in building my own company and after years of learning to weather the storm, feel especially equipped to talk about in detail.
Learn to Fail Faster
"Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough."--Mark Zuckerberg.
At this point, the above quote from Facebook's Founder might seem like a platitude, but I think that it still packs a lot of truth which startup Founders should take seriously. Because the tech industry inherently moves so quickly, it's often impossible for us to reach the initial goals that we set out for ourselves. Even if you're the first person to come up with a disruptive idea, you can be sure that someone is always on your heels. If you fail at reaching a goal, don't let this sap your drive to keep pushing harder. Many startup CEO's will let their operations lie prostrate when the outcome of their work doesn't align with their original goals. What's more important however, is to keep pace and keep pivoting. Take for example Stuart Butterfield. When his gaming company collapsed what emerged was the messaging platform Slack--and that's now valued at over 2 billion dollars. The point to take away here is that you will fail as a Founder. It's simply inevitable. But the next time you fail do it faster because the faster you fail, the more quickly you can get back up and create something from that failure.
Hire for Talent not for Volume
One of the hardest things that any Founder will have to do is hire the right people in the early goings of building their business. There are many disparate positions that need to be filled at any run of the mill startup, and the key to filling them will be in hiring people who can manage the workload of doing different types of tasks within one position. If you hire a marketing manager you should make sure that they're not only well versed in managing integrated campaigns, but that they can write blog posts (as well as other written collateral) and that they have a working knowledge of SEO best practices. Cash flow is the number one problem facing startups and you must come up with creative ways to compensate talented people. Allowing team members to be creative and have autonomy with their own projects can give them a greater sense of satisfaction at their job, even if they could potentially be making more money at a larger company. If you are lucky enough to be funded by investors, still take the time to develop your team slowly and don't spend too much on hiring too many people all at once. We all know that saying, "Slow to hire, quick to fire" and even if it feels like you've heard this a million times, it's true. Make sure you're not quick to hire anyone in your journey towards success as not everyone can survive in a startup.
Don't Get Burnt Out
Any guesses at what the most important resource to any startup is? It's that gray squishy thing between your ears. As a Founder people will look to you to offer leadership and guidance across the board, but if your brain is fried, then the team you've assembled will take their cues from a flustered individual who's getting too burnt out for their ideas (let alone their business) to scale. Don't worry though, as the head of your own company your mind's natural state will remain somewhere between "Is this new deck really ready for investors?" and "are my product goals really aligning with my goals for building a sales funnel?" You will experience a lot of stress as a startup founder, and that's okay because you're trying to build something big. But if your brain is running on fumes then you're not okay, and your company is not okay. Many entrepreneurial experts suggest that you can only control somewhere around 30% (max 40%) of the variables that affect your business's success. This can be a very freeing statistic for letting yourself off the hook when it comes to worrying about things like competitor success and marketplace environment changes. When you allow yourself to worry less about the things you can't control, it allows you to be more focused on the things you can control, which should substantially decrees your burn rate.
Remember that Success at a Startup isn't like Success at Other Jobs
People who work at big companies or VC firms that are fully equipped to jump into the next project or venture don't often find their footing in startups. As I talked about above, to be successful in a startup you have to be more comfortable when your success isn't entirely in your control. Managers and other employees who work at VC firms or at big companies go in every day knowing that they have the framework set up for them to succeed. However, it requires a different type of "stick-to-it" attitude entirely to build a business from scratch. If a large company puts work into a product that eventually fails, they most likely have three or four other projects that succeed. If your big project fails then your company may lose its scalability. Success then, when you're starting a small business is much more relative than just securing your first six figure B2B deal. It can come in the form of hiring a great new employee after a careful vetting process, or it can come in the form of making your launch on time. The main take away here is that success as the founder of a startup can come in many forms, it's not just in making sales and growing revenue.
Don't Build Product Before Building a Sales Funnel
While the most difficult thing about building a business is getting people to convert, the next most difficult thing you'll do is build a product. It's a classic chicken and egg scenario: if I don't have a product, how can I sell to customers? Many startups, whether they're in a B2C venture or B2B overly focus their efforts on product delivery instead of slowly building a sales funnel. Over the years I've seen companies turn out great products, but when it came time to capitalize on their inventiveness, they were left scratching their heads, and unfortunately, startup life isn't as charming as an episode of Silicon Valley--meaning that when you have a revolutionary product, but have major problems developing leads, your company probably won't be rescued from total failure by some crazy billionaire investor. It makes sense that we should be naturally inclined to focus our full attention on buildings products as products captivate us as consumers alike, but don't make this mistake. Articulating a sales funnel is every bit as important (if not more important) as building product. That being said, you should be aligning your sales goals with your product goals every step of the way. Not only will realistic sales goals help define the amount of energy you spend on building your product, building a sales funnel as you build your product will allow you to see what is scalable for your company and what is