I believe that founders are super-humans.
Founders take an incredible financial, emotional, mental, and (unfortunately) health risk to create the change that they want to see in the world. They must display a great belief in the incredible while consistently staring at the inevitable. They must wear so many faces that they may not even remember what the original face looked like.
Founders, big or small, have an incredible amount of power, disrupting the ecosystems within which they operate. Yet, they live in the constant reality that they could lose the power they hold today, by a bunch of college students sitting in a dorm room, building the next big disruption. The real-life of a founder – the one that lies between the Instagram posts and LinkedIn updates – can be brutal. Therefore, Pankaj Mishra’s timely piece on The deadly disease stalking India’s startup unicorn founders shines a light on a topic shrouded in darkness.
One common factor of stress for founders is whether “what I am doing today will take me to the Big Hairy Audacious Goal that I had set out to achieve when I started this company”. Their insecurity of – the time they have left to achieve their goals is shorter than the time they need to execute their plans – makes them do some outlandish stunts.
They rack up marketing costs, hire troves, build audacious infrastructure for a demand that does not exist without unsustainable customer incentives. All these tactics push burns to forest fire levels, creating enough smoke & confusion that no one would know when their house turned to ash.
I wish I could say that these were one-off stories that we tell new founders to scare them into sustainable entrepreneurship. It is a phenomenon that is well documented, some of them turning into courtroom dramas played across startup ecosystems around the globe.
One method that seems to reduce founder stress tremendously is to guide them into focusing that incredible founder energy into the zeal for a small set of goals. We work closely with the founding team to identify the metrics that matter, i.e., those metrics that are demanded by the people who matter, asking the questions that must be answered.
Then I love setting a goal for the founding team to hit those metrics that would answer (with data) those very people who did not believe in the business idea’s viability. With each level of goal achievement, the metrics that matter would evolve.
Narrowing the founding team’s focus on a palatable (but challenging) set of goals reduces stress and creates mini victories in the battles to the audacious victory. The narrower focus reduces unnecessary spending or expansions unless it aligns with the reply to the questions that must be answered.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead