We’ve seen this story time and again: A start-up gains steam, is showered with glowing press reviews, garners excessive praise, and then– everything goes off the rails. These flash-in-the-pan start-ups often suffer the same fate, for the same reasons. What happened? And what can you do to prevent it?
Confidence is good; an illusion of invincibility is not. The early days of a start-up are filled with excruciating decisions and calculated risks. But once entrepreneurs start seeing some success, momentary thrills that elicit confidence can morph into an illusion of invincibility. Founders understandably want to seize upon that momentum, but going too hard too fast can often be a recipe for disaster.
Lost focus. When things are going poorly, it’s easy to see the flashing caution signs. These issues can then be addressed and ideally, resolved. But when things are going well, it can be easy to lose focus. Somehow, start-up founders must retain their focus and attention to detail even when things are going well. Success can be just as temporary as challenges.
Early wins don’t translate into forever wins. A few early successes can seem like a lucky streak in a poker game. They’re great news, and a sign that you’re doing something right. But they shouldn’t be interpreted as a permanent trajectory of success. Be cautious about assuming too much.
Validation goes to our heads. Everyone loves to be recognized for their genius ideas, but all that praise can pump up the ego a bit much. It’s important to remember that an idea is only the beginning of a very long journey. Even a genius must put in the sweat equity to turn their ideas into a long-term reality.
Living in “the now.” What is “success,” exactly? When an idea appears to take off, founders are often too quick to label it a success. True, there will be successful moments along the way, and those should be celebrated. But never lose sight of the fact that outcomes are measured over years, not months.
Burnout. Start-ups require tremendous investment of energy in their beginning stages. It can be easy for founders to burn out if they don’t pace themselves along the way. Take the night or weekend off. Usually, a truly great idea will still be great on Monday morning.
The late Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, once said: “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” While I’m not advocating that entrepreneurs be consistently paranoid, a good dose of humility can and should keep them on track for the long road ahead.