Your Startup Does Not Need "Adult Supervision"
September 27, 2016

Your Startup Does Not Need "Adult Supervision"

by Brian de Haaff

A friend of mine came over the other night for a pep talk. He works at a San Francisco logistics startup. And he said that things are going well and not so well at the same time. Weird, right?

You see, the startup’s free mobile application is quickly being adopted. Which is great news. But the founders are barely sober long enough to appreciate what is going on or to consider how they are going to turn a free application into a profitable business. 

To make matters worse, irresponsible spending is shortening an all-too-short runway. My friend worries that they will run out of money before they prove the business. What about the board and investors, you ask? They are out partying with the founders like it is 1999.

I have founded a few companies myself, so I understand that heady feeling of excitement. The desire to celebrate when success feels so close can be intoxicating. But if you are leading a startup, the only rational decision is to get back to work — not go on a champagne-soaked bender because you have a bit of cash in the bank and some early traction.

That is why I scoff when people tell founders at early-stage companies that they need “adult supervision.” I suggest the following: If you are an adult, you do not need supervision. 

What you do need is to recognize the rare opportunity in front on you — then make darn sure you do not blow it. How not to blow it, you ask? On paper at least, that’s fairly straightforward. You need:

Focus Does your success feel like a done deal, so you might as well join everyone else who wants to hit the beer fridge at 4 p.m. on Fridays? This is not the time to mentally check out. Do your best to ignore all those tempting, shiny distractions and zero in on your goals. When others see your dogged commitment, they will stay on task as well.

Humility It is okay to be confident and optimistic, but it is not okay to allow near-success to go to your head. Flattery from investors and media may prompt you to conveniently forget the contributions of your hard-working team, and ego may trick you into thinking that you did it (mostly) on your own. The reality is there will always be more to learn and a never-ending list of work left to be done.

Leadership Your team is depending on you to lead with conviction — not to be nursing a hangover and straggling in after 10 a.m. This is not the time to slip away or overindulge. Now is the time to continue to refine the strategy and work harder than anyone else at implementing it. Leading a team is not easy, but it is important and essential to the lasting power of your company.

Responsibility Your customers require that you make good on your promises. Your team needs you to make smart decisions. And your backers are banking on a nice return on their investment. You have a responsibility to them all, as well as to yourself. And if you do not give it everything now, you will kick yourself later on, guaranteed. No one wants to yearn for “what could have been.”

Your fledgling product may be off to a quick start. But this moment — on the cusp of your success — is the real proving ground. Do you pop the corks or keep building?

You founded a company or are helping to build one. And the fact that you are reading this post almost guarantees that you have lived long enough to be legally considered an adult. So, the question is not about whether or not you are an adult, but about your behavior and if you are acting like one.

The opportunity to build a great product and company does not bubble up every day. And if you are careless — it will dry up faster than an open-bar party at my friend’s startup.

Have you seen company leaders act like children?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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