I have conversations with founders on a daily basis whose persistence and resilience is awe inspiring.
However, all startup founder paths to success follow similar patterns – where the seemingly short paths turn out to be lengthy! Often, we are working out what *not* to do, where *not* to tread – and frequently, we have to reverse our steps too! I don’t know about you, I hate reverse gear – but I’m learning to love it!
In fact, founding a startup is a bit like finding your way through a maze – like this one, perhaps?
Do you see how close the target appears to the starting arrow? How easy it looks…!? Just a short distance away?
Well, you try. How long – using your eye only – does it take you to find a path to the goal? And, keep a track of how many dead ends you find yourself in – and how many times to have to track back (or reverse) before you can move forward?
Now – just imagine doing this on the ground without the advantage of a bird’s eye view? Just like a founder deep in the tech engine room or customer CRM of a startup?
So yes, determination to find the path is crucial here! The resilience required to keep going when you feel ‘lost’ is substantial and your path will feature as many reversals as it does advances…
…but it does *ultimately* lead to your goal!
Recognise and Reverse
The challenge is to recognise when you have reached a dead end and then take appropriate action!
In the corporate world – where you are ‘told’ (explicitly or implicitly) to ‘do something’, then the natural response is to stay focused on that task until the thing needing doing is ‘done’. And, if what you have been asked to do takes you down a dead end, it is likely that rather than change course, you’ll call for more resources. You see, changing course requires standing up to a more senior manager or boss and explaining / showing why what they want done isn’t going to have a happy outcome.
So yes, it’s easier and safer to just carry on. And call for more resources; like perhaps a ladder to climb the hedge, some garden tools to cut down the hedge, a spade to dig under the hedge – rather than turn around and find another way.
This ‘bulldozer’ strategy might work in a corporate environment because the big company has, relatively speaking, unlimited resources with which to blast a way through any barrier. And your manager doesn’t want to admit defeat to *her* senior manager, so everyone has an interested in carrying this on….
…however as a startup – even if you have funding – you do not have unlimited resources! So, learning to get through the maze without ‘cheating’ means that you can achieve your goal with many fewer resources!
But, trying and discovering new paths, as a strategy, doesn’t just preserve your resources – it also allows you to build new solutions based on what you have learnt. And that new ‘learning’ becomes your competitive advantage that helps you grow at extraordinary speed and that subsequently, corporates will pay lots of money to acquire.
Why Founders are Amaze-ing!
I share the maze analogy a lot when working with founders because it is a great reminder of the kind of work that is required to create success – we spend half our time reversing! It also helps founders value their startup work – not just for what they have done – but for what they have stopped doing or avoided doing too!
Often, founders don’t give themselves enough credit. And this makes it hard to help them achieve a fair valuation – and I believe that is because we forget to tell other people – investors, or new senior members of staff – who never went through what we went through – what is really involved!
But there’s more good news…
There’s more good news: the maze and ability to reverse and learn is also why your startup is much harder to copy than you may fear! To people outside your organisation, they just see the start point and goal – but you see all the dead ends, false hopes and reversals and twists & turns that are required before you actually arrive at that goal!
So yes, building a startup is tough – but that’s a good thing because most people simply are not willing to do what it takes! And yes, when you negotiate with investors or sell equity – do so only after you recall all the errors, missteps and changes of direction you have made and the lessons you had to learn before you figured out how to move forward.
Lastly, the more mazes (and startups) you do – the more you love them! 🙂 A bit like marathons I guess….!
If you want some help working out the contradictions and uncertainties in your new startup – take some time to apply the (free) breakthrough canvas business model. It was designed to help startup founders like you who find themselves at a cross roads or unsure how best to move forward or simply, if you know you need to gain more clarity.
Or, click this link for more information on startup founder resilience.