Startups Need Driven Drivers

For the past two nights I’ve woken up at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. respectively with ideas and issues I need to get done with our four-year-old startup at iThemes.

I thought after the first couple of years this bad habit would stop, but it hasn’t. I still feel compelled to make sure the business is rolling along and the essential things are getting done. And sometimes those issues keep me up at night.

I see holes that need patching. I see balls that might have been dropped. Issues to be dealt with. Problems to solve. Fires to deal with. And always, always, people to lead and manage.

Successful startups need drivers and champions. Typically it’s one person – the founder. Someone that wakes up in the middle of the night and keeps the enterprise moving forward. Someone that is constantly thinking about how to acquire more customers, tackle new markets and new products, tweak existing processes, pushing the individuals and teams to go farther … and generally be the person manning the radar and looking out on the horizon. Always.

Maybe it’s compulsion. Maybe it’s neurotic. But someone has to do it. And that is obviously the founders.

No one else will do it.

And honestly, it sucks to lose sleep. It sucks to feel the weight of all this on your shoulders and to feel it in your gut. It sucks to be the one person that HAS to make sure things are getting done while juggling a million other little things that NEED to get done too.

But if you don’t have this consistent inner drive to push everything forward constantly, you might need to rethink your startup dreams.

You cannot rely on anyone else to do all of this. And if you don’t do it, you might miss something vastly important.

There is the day-to-day pressing issues and those 6 months or years down the line. It all has to be watched, examined and reviewed constantly … and then appropriate adjustments made.

You have to be vigilant. You have to be “on the watch.” I rarely let my guard down as a result.

The biggest issue I’ve seen in my own business and others is cashflow. Managing, forecasting and maintaining good cashflow is perhaps the most critical component in a startup (or any business). It’s the lifeblood of the business. That sounds obvious, but I’ve seen new entrepreneurs fail at it and sink their ships.

Without cash, you starve.

If you’re in a service business, if you don’t invoice and then followup on payment, you won’t get paid. (People are never anxiously awaiting your bill to pay it as fast as they can!) Then while you’re doing that you need to fill the pipeline with the next billable projects in your queue to repeat the cycle over and over again.

If you’re in a product business, it’s about each month’s sales and how the current month is progressing because you have a baseline number you have to hit to keep things above water. There is also seasonality, market, customer and competitive issues at play that mess with product sales and cashflow.

But driving the business means eating and sleeping it, especially in the early years. And I’ll tell you at four years in, I still eat and sleep it (or not in today’s case). I tell people I have few if any hobbies that don’t directly relate back to my work, or help me do it better. It happens that I also enjoy the work I do and my work has always been extremely important to me.

So here’s the thing for rookie entrepreneurs: Be ready to eat, sleep, breath your startup for a long, long time. Everything in it all ultimately falls on you. It is your gig. Your name is on most everything related to it. You’re the person in charge, the person people look to, and the one who must deal with today’s issues while simultaneously preparing for tomorrow’s.

You must be the lead driver. The one intensely focused on the race and the moves that will help you win. You must be fiercely determined to get where you need to go. You’re watching the dashboard to make sure things aren’t overheating, switching gears to get optimum speed around curves, and looking around the next curve.

You must be the lead champion of the brand. And the causes your products and services promote. No one else will care as much as you do. You cannot delegate that to someone else. No one loves your startup baby like you do.

You must be a lead teacher and trainer. No one else knows your passions, your instinct, your reasons, your background data and your history and knowledge of the products and services you offer like you do. Somehow you have to start teaching and delegating things to get done out to others.

You must be watching vigilantly on the horizon. Looking around the next corner or curve for the icebergs or clear waters (aka Threats and Opportunities).

… so get some sleep now while you can.

 

 

 

 

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