A make or break time for any start-up or growing company is when it goes from being something dreamt up on a napkin and run by an individual or small initial team to a company employing many, with outside hires and an infrastructure; when it’s grown bigger than that initial founder(s). Not surprisingly, that founder often finds herself/ himself unwilling to hand over the baby that they birthed and raised through the drooling and stumbling first years of its life to relative strangers (a.k.a. those outside hires, or, well, basically anyone seen as not part of the original team.) They have Founder’s Syndrome.
These founders want to hang on to their baby but they must let go of the baby (i.e. precious company) if they want it to survive.
Here are the five biggest issues of Founders Syndrome and what to do about them:
Issue 1: “No one can do it as well as I can.” Look, the company originated because of you: your idea, your personality, your style. Of course it’s a reflection of you. But your capacity is only so big. If your maximum capacity to develop software, sell shoes or make tacos is the size you want your company to be: congratulations! You do not need to, nor should you, expand. However, if your capacity is “x” and you want your company to develop “500x” amounts of software, sell “3,000x” shoes or make “12,000,000x” tacos then you must bring in others.
Solution 1: You must now shift your focus from doing the thing to training others to do the thing. You simply must train others; THAT is now your job, like it or not. If you don’t like it, then hire someone else to head the company so you can develop the software, sell the shoes or make the tacos. But you cannot be both creating the mountaintop vision and simultaneously in the trenches.
Issue 2: Lack of trust. At come point, you must let go of the child on the bike and let them ride. Yes, they may fall over occasionally, but you can be there to pick them up and guide them. You must not get back on the bike yourself (see #1).
Solution 2: Even if trust doesn’t come naturally, you must develop it; otherwise you will micromanage others and they will leave. Then you will never be able to grow to your potential or will end up only as big as your own personal capacity.
Issue 3: Short-sightedness. Whether you’re growing fast or slow, there are always growing pains: mis-hires, poor strategic direction, lack of cohesiveness in a new team, etc. Expect these.
Solution 3: Take the long view. The long view is that you and that great team you hired want the company to succeed and grow. It’s true you may no longer do things the way you did in the old days, like curse at each other in meetings or fire a client on a whim because you don’t like them, or close up shop on a moment’s notice to take the whole company (a.k.a. you and your spouse) on a vacation. These things may no longer be in the best interest of the company long term as much as they might be what you, personally, would prefer. Having a long term view means choosing the company over yourself.
Issue 4: Ego. Look, people who start companies are often independent; they have their idea of how things should be done. That quality serves them very well when the company is just them. But throw some other people (or a few hundred) in the mix and then suddenly the independence may not be the most useful quality; or worse, looks like narcissism and the inability to work with others.
Solution 4: Want the success of the company more than you want to look good. That means hiring people who are smarter than you to run individual departments. It means taking the advice of your team, your advisers, or your Board of Directors rather than going with you own idea. It means stepping aside from the roles you have trained others to do so that you can do the part only you can do… which brings us to the final suggestion:
Solution 5: Be the Spirit of the company. Regardless of what title you give yourself or where you fall in the Org Chart, you hold the flame of the heart and soul of the company. No one can claim that but you. Find a way to pass it on: through conversation, through training, through hiring (or firing!), through mission statement or how you are with people when you show up in the morning. Pass that flame on and your company will far surpass the individual contribution you can make.
Founder’s Syndrome is an illness, but it doesn’t have to be fatal. For more on managing your company’s Founder’s Syndrome, contact us for a consultation.