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Startup: Not for the Faint of Heart

The term “startup” rose in popularity during the dot-com bubble (mid to late 1990′s) when new tech ventures were plentiful. Today, the term is often used to describe new endeavors in multiple fields of passion.

I personally like the term. It definitely conjures up feelings of hope, unyielding optimism, and a “nothing can stop us now” attitude. It’s usually inspiring to engage people in this startup phase of business or organizational development. Most startups carry a contagious zeal for their work and its potential to impact many. Exciting indeed.

It’s no wonder that so many are jumping into the startup world. I’m all for it because I completely believe that the world needs new ideas and solutions for some of our most pressing needs.

In light of this growing trend of startups, I’d like to offer a word of caution and some words of advice (in hopes that more will succeed)…

  • It’s incredibly difficult to sustain and scale a new venture. Once the hype around a concept subsides, we have to do real business (i.e., real work). I think this is where a lot of visionaries get stuck. If you’re in this place, be careful with your next move. While it’s important to build a strong team around your weaknesses, you must never forget that you still need to know enough to intelligently engage the various areas you hope to delegate or hire around. This must be an active form or engagement and not just a “farming out” of specialties. Keep learning.
  • Develop a strong network of people to surround your work. Whether it is financial or human capital, you’re going to need the honest input and help from others. These individuals have to be more than cheerleaders of your work or casual supporters of the idea. Do you have people who will literally invest in what you’re doing if you needed them to? Plans rarely work out exactly as you plan. Sometimes things turn out better than expected, but in some cases, they don’t. If you’re an optimist (and you probably are), develop a habit of thinking through multiple scenarios of outcome. Is there a plan B or C or D? I’m definitely not saying that you should set yourself up for disappointment or have excuses ready in case things don’t work out. Rather, be realistic with some “what if it doesn’t pan out as planned” scenarios to make sure your work continues. The issue here is not about the success or failure of a project. It’s really about long-term existence of your work.
  • Do your homework. Resist the urge to settle for “I hope it works out.” Although we can’t predict the future, we can be somewhat prepared. There’s a huge difference between startups that understand current trends and strategies in the market versus those who are banking on their passion. The former will be more resilient through difficult times. I know it’s common sense, but you will be surprised at how many don’t use it.
  • Make it better. Never settle for an idea. We must tenaciously be committed to making our work and concepts better. Yes, Kaizen! What you start (or even launch) with is never the goal. After launch, make it even better. Edit what you don’t need and add what you do to strengthen your core competency. Work towards clarity and create a culture of unending improvement. You’ll thank me later.

If you feel that your idea is worth implementing, get ready for a huge gut-check. Good ideas that want to be great must through the reality of what it takes to be a successful startup. Still want this? Get ready to roll up your sleeves and kiss mediocrity and verbal passion good bye.

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Charles is the CEO & Chief Idea-Maker at Ideation, a brand innovation company that specializes in helping businesses & organizations build remarkable brands via innovative business design, organizational change architecture, brand integration, design, web, and marketing services. He is also the author of Good Idea. Now What?: How to Move Ideas to Execution, a practical book designed to help people move ideas to implementation. Charles is regularly invited to speak to leading companies and organizations on topics such as creativity, innovation, idea-making, and branding. Executive leaders from brands including Wells Fargo, Toyota, The White House, Catalyst, William Morris Endeavor, mun2, Council of Urban Professionals, Chick-fil-A, and many others have benefited from having Charles present at their key events.