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So many hats so little time; the habits and rhythms of successful startup founders.

August 11, 2015

Simple – ship weekly (or ship weakly), test, talk to users. The rest makes you mediocre, like wasting time on Twitter. As Elon said, work like hell.

You’ve probably heard someone say this before, or maybe this statement has even come from you too. Why is it that almost everyone claims to have the next big startup idea but only a small number of people have the courage and audacity to start something new and make it happen?

It’s another thing all together to go out and start something. To make a start exposes us. It is fundamentally this fear that stops us from being bold that stops us from taking action. We fear what others will think and say. We are afraid that our own self image will be tainted in the event of failure.

Its much safer to say things than it is to go out and try things. It’s also much easier to give ourselves the satisfaction of believing that if we went out and took action that we would succeed than it actually is to just give it a try. We don’t know and nether does anyone else. The only true indicator of startup success is reality. The unpredictability of the startup experiment frightens us and keeps us locked in a prism of self-made excuses.

Those who are able to ignore their own fears are the ones that start things. They are bold and give themselves permission to start and thus the opportunity to succeed. Everybody else, just self-sabotages their own success. Fear in the form of resistance is created by our need for certainty, safety and comfort.

How do you make the shift from talking about a startup to acting on your ideas? The struggle is not in the idea it is in the process of overcoming the fear to start, then beating your own resistance to complete it and finally dealing with the fear of failure in order to get it out there.

With so many internal battles it’s no wonder that we find it easier to talk about them than to start take action towards achieve those visions. Breaking this cycle of fear is something we must learn if we wish to produce results.

Start it. Ship it. Repeat. Seth Godin talks in detail about the mindset of people to start things and ship things. His book, Poke the Box, discusses the innovation mindset from a new point of view:

The challenge, it turns out, isn’t in perfecting your ability to know when to start and when to stand by. The challenge is getting into the habit of starting.

You’ll need to learn to identify these key fears…

  • Fear of success: the fear that we are not worthy of success. You must believe in yourself in order to take action.
  • Rationalisation: beware of the excuses you make in your mind of why things happen a certain way.
  • Self medication: beware of when you feel the desire to heal yourself or taking a break. This can often come from a place of fear rather than truth.
  • Victimhood: do not identify with your failures.
  • Self-doubt: beware of self-sabotage, when you unconsciously act in particular ways to reduce your ability to succeed.

In Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, he discusses the resistance we all face when launching something new, specifically though he lists a number of ways to make the shift from self-doubting mindset to work to having a more determined mindset:

  • Show up everyday, show up no matter what
  • Stay on the job all day
  • Commit over the long haul
  • The stakes are high and real: this means that we must have sense of urgency with our work.
  • We are focused on results
  • We do not over identify with our work: we must be willing to change our work based on feedback of relevant sources
  • We master the technique of our work
  • We have a sense of humour about our work
  • We receive praise or blame in the real world: we expose ourselves to external feedback.

As Elon Musk says, When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour.

As I learn more about startups and the community, the more intrigued I have become with startup founders. I have supported a number of founders from tech startups, and I am constantly inspired by how they execute at speed within such uncertain circumstances. I’ve observed a pattern amongst many of these folk, regardless of their product, service or industry, these founders all had the following characteristics in common:

Vision and Purpose What are you trying to achieve? There will be highs and lows throughout the entrepreneurial journey of building a business. Remembering why you started in the first place and being able to see the end goal gives you the conviction to move forward through the toughest obstacles.

Persevere with an ability to get stuff done The founders I’ve worked with all carry a positive attitude and possess a winning mentality. They have fallen, but always return with a sense of resilience. They see the positive in the negative. They understand that to grow, they must raise the bar, as there is always the next stage, a higher challenge to meet.

They are guided by unwavering passion for what they do Passion (their why?) brings the sunshine on a rainy day. They started their business out of passion over profit, motivated by their interest in good impact. You want to make sure what you’re doing is what you love, because you will ultimately feel less of a slave to your business if you’re following your heart and not the money.

They run experiments like crazy The market opportunity is constantly changing and with that, there will always be new gaps, trends and demands. Good founders are like scientists and adventurers, they are always testing and experimenting. They recognise in order to stay relevant, market validation is a constant process.

Simplicity Whenever I look at a successful startup, it’s easy to admire how the moving parts, features and services, work in harmony, and do so with simplicity as the unifying theme. So when designed the V1 of anything there are four things we should remember:

1. It should be a solution to a singular problem, not a related multitude.
2. It should be easy to build & test against that problem.
3. It should be easy to explain.
4. It should be easy to adopt and use.

So, if these are the core features, attributes and outcomes arising from the study of successful startups, what are the individual habits of startup founders to make it happen? Here are my twelve thoughts:

Habit 1: Always look forward Being an innovator is all about being a disruptive thinking, to go beyond an existing market, seeing an unfilled gap in the market – or create a new market itself. You need to be a pioneer, keeping your eyes open for new opportunities to create your own market space. This means taking chances, but if anything is a critical part of a good habit set of a startup founder it’s a willingness to do just that.

Habit 2: Be customer centric A startup is an experiment, and progress requires an unwavering commitment to the customer, rather than your product. You need to develop an obsessive habit and mind-set of living in your customer’s world. Understanding customers provides you with a greater opportunity to earn their attention. Spend time on what touches a customer, and don’t do anything to yoru product that doesn’t generate revenue. Focus on making valuable things. Everything else is noise.

Habit 3: Make decisions You have to be action led. From daily operations to strategic direction choices, waffling with indecision just will not work. The ability to make decisions is directly related to your sense of confidence, so if you find yourself not knowing which choice to make, remind yourself that you have more insight into what you’re doing than anyone else, and trust your instincts. Don’t create obstacles. When others create obstacles, move on and keep building.

Habit 4: Avoid the crowds Conventional wisdom yields conventional results. Joining the crowd – no matter how trendy or ‘hot’ the moment, is a recipe for mediocrity or ‘me2’ at best. Remarkably successful startup founders by definition habitually do what other people won’t do. They go where others don’t because there’s less competition and a much greater chance for success. Make your business about one simple problem, and solve it.

Habit 5: Always look for the upside Problems are a regular part of startup life, it can often seem like everything is jam side down. To achieve success, look at both sides of the coin – every problem has an opportunity. Being opportunity focused makes you more positive about seeing potential in every situation. The habit of a positive mind-set is key. It’s easy to be critical. Especially in private. Don’t be.

Habit 6: Get out of the building The startup founders we’ve worked with consistently name the one habit they felt contributed the most to their success. Each said the habit and ability to ‘think customer’ and get out of the building is key. Having conversations with potential customers is a key habit to building value in your product and building relationships. You don’t need to sell, you just need to be in conversations.

Habit 7: Start at the end Average success is often based on setting average goals. Decide what you really want: to be the best, the fastest, the most innovative, whatever. Aim for the ultimate. Decide where you want to end up. That is your goal. Then you can work backwards and lay out every step along the way. Never start small where goals are concerned. The habit of thinking big, looking to the horizon and working backwards is vital to growth.

Habit 8: Be organised Sometimes having a head full of big ideas can lead to thinking being a bit scattered. The difference between an ideas person who remains ineffective in implementation, and someone who achieves success, falls on having an ability and habits to be organised enough to follow through with them. Prefer action to thinking, spend time planning and a lot more time doing, but know why and where you’re heading.

Habit 9: Make small bets and make them quickly There is no guarantee anyone will buy your great idea. Your resources are limited and you don’t want to risk everything on one roll of the dice. Get out in the market fast and let potential customers tell you if you are onto something. Respond to feedback, change course and act. The habit of being flexible allows us to respond to changes without being paralyzed with fear and uncertainty

Habit 10: …and they don’t stop there Achieving a goal, no matter how huge, isn’t the finish line for most startup founders, rather it just creates a launch pad for achieving another goal. Startup founders are restless, and don’t try to win just one race, they expect to win a number of subsequent races.

Habit 11: Don’t be afraid or embarrassed by failure James Dyson, creator of the famous Dyson vacuum, is no stranger to failure. In fact, he embraces it. He made 5,127 prototypes of his vacuum before he got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution he says. Dyson’s point is that if you want to discover something new, you’re bound to fail a few times and that’s okay. The habit of being resilient and not taking no for an answer stood him in good stead

Habit 12: Be true to yourself Steve Jobs succeeded by following his own ‘inner voice, heart and intuition’. He said, Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. If you must, put your name to it and articulate your analysis objectively. Say it to their face.

How many of these habits do you recognise in yourself? What else do you do that adds to the list? Let me know!

 

 

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