Fatigue in founders can be caused by many reasons. Here I touch upon 5 reasons which are easy to remove, and can be handled by the time you are finished with this article if you take action on each. And I am not talking about delegation as a solution, for god’s sake.
1. Attitude towards hard work vs systems approach, read on, there is more to it.
There is an idea in the startup community, and its a very useful idea, it is the idea of working harder than the rest so you can launch faster, it’s a good idea, theoretically, but considering the toll, it takes on founders and their teams, it’s worth talking about.
The mindset of the founder is the key driver in their startup journey, and it depends on where they are coming from, in their past experience, how they experienced their first win as a child. A win can be of two types, one is something when the friends, society, parents or school took notice, whether it was a school project or a business gig as a kid. Or the win of the second type, when you yourself felt proud of and amazed by the output you produced, whether it was an essay, painting or project. The win when it happened the first time, it happened, because you gave more time to the thing. You read more about it, you captured more details. You did more.
And then you grew up as an adult, you figured out that if you continue doing that, you read more, you get more knowledge; you work more hours, you produce more articles; you work longer on your thesis, you produce more revisions; you work long hours on your product, you can launch it faster; you produce long hours on your software project, you write more code. And eventually, if you compare the output from the rest of the group, you would be producing more output and better output if you put longer hours. This linear relationship is true for any individual pursuit, whether it’s writing, making movies, making software, you can increase the fineness of the output by spending more time. Is this true, yes. You can only put longer hours if you are able to enjoy and concentrate, and the micro-processes in your brain work in tandem to produce the masterpiece.
How about the scenario of selling? Can you have a longer sales meeting and produce more results. You can produce more results, not by only meeting more people but also considering which people you are meeting, what you are telling them and the way you are telling them? It is a mini-system, that multiple things at the right time, right moment.
Can as a farmer, you spend more time sowing, when the sowing is done? I guess now, the sowing is done, then you wait, you water the plants, you do not keep watering them for 12 hours a day. Then again you wait, you take out the weeds, or put pesticides, it’s not a 12 hours a day job. This is another system where you cannot produce more by working more. What if the farmer geeked out one day and said, I am going to finish watering the my fields for the whole season today. I am going crack the watering thing tonight, and he might find a way to drip irrigate, so he does not need to water the plants anymore. But the point is you cannot do make a system work without knowing all the factors, and by just assuming hard work is going to fix everything. You need to do the right things, at the right time, in the right quantity, to make the system work.
I also see hard work is a borrowed thing from production businesses, you work more, you manufacture more products. If you work two extra hours and it takes 10 minutes to assemble a product, you just assembled 12 extra products, which is directly money. But this is not the system of business, you as a founder needs to look at. There could be some part of your business, where this may apply but it certainly does not applies to you, your whole team.
Understanding business as a system, means you need to do the needed things at the needed time. I give an analogy of business as a spider, if you have two legs really big and two legs are missing, your business will crawl. If you have all eight of them, of the right size, then they can work in tandem and spider can walk effortlessly. Sometimes founders are trying to be the two legs that are missing, and working hard to move the spider.
2. Working “against” the system due to a lack of clarity on the system of the business.
It’s like trying to fly a kite when there is no wind Its like trying to row a boat in the opposite direction of the flow of the river. How? First is, when the group of people whom you would like to call your customers, is not excited about your product. Then you are working against this force of “neutrality” of your customers towards your product. The whole team is pushing against this force. Now contrast it with a product which is loved by the customers. This is one force, and I will not go into the details of how and why it happens in this post. But there are other forces in business too, which you are acting against, major trends in customer preferences, technology adoption trends, profits (i.e. if your unit sales are not profitable), you are just creating a self-defeating system), cash flow force, the changing world, the changing preferences of new generation.
The stress is enhanced when the hard work does not produce results, because it leads to desperation, frustration and feeling of not being in control of the system. So you work harder.
3. Improper communicating, coordinating, getting other people to do their work, project managing the company.
Have you played chess, what if every time you needed to move the rook by 2 places, you needed 3 meetings and 4 follow up meetings, and then send an email to the rook for a reminder, and then hold a daily meeting to take status if the rook moved? You get the point. The coordination, is plain and simple coordination, do not confuse it with work. Do not get stressed about it. Focus on the move. If person A is not delivering the move, outsource the move, get someone else to do the move, acquire a company to do the move. And so on. You as the chief will need to make the decision on the moves, you, of course, can take ideas from people, but it is your decision. That’s a whole different topic, what all you need to equip yourself with to make a decision. You need speed in implementing those decisions. So what to do about it. Get really good at figuring out what is the move, and find people who can deliver that. or Find someone who is really good at coordinating with people, and let her ensure that the rook moves!
4. Direction friction, culture friction, decision making friction, with co-founders, with investors, with key employees.
You can fix this by alignment, which can take time. But getting clear on who is moving which numbers (which results) is the fastest way to clarity, it buys you more time to fix the deeper issues. Stick to the rule, that if the number belongs to a person, they will take all calls on it, and allocate roles and the numbers considering that. Divide functions/areas among co-founders, key people on the team. Meanwhile, get more perceptive about people, especially the core people, try to know them as people first. Then you might come up with ideas on where the issues are and might be able to align better in the coming weeks. Also, understand that this is not business, this is something you need to do to work in a team, set clear areas, numbers and let everyone produce results in terms of movement of those numbers. Find people who fit your culture, especially at the top, unless you want to change the culture, for that you will need to change first or get out of your startup.
5. Stress, Stress is also caused by not taking decisions, not taking decisions fast enough.
Getting comfortable that you as a founder will have to take tough decisions, without knowing all the consequences in advance, without knowing all the data in advance. Within the constraints of your cash, time and resources. It is not about the complexity, it is the idea of making a decision, that needs to be worked upon, a lot of times, we want the decision to make itself, that is there is so much data, it is screaming which way to go. But sometimes when the data is not there, you wait and wait for more data. But this is what leads to stress. A decision is a process that you do in less than a minute. It is the data and weighing the decision that you can continue forever. Take smaller bets if you want to make it easier to make decisions. When you have decisions, have some people who have taken those decisions many times over to help you with those, but help only, the decision needs to rest with you still.
6. Negativity, negativity can come from friends, family, spouse, employees, etc.
You need to fix negativity flowing into your life. Its negative energy. Negative attitude towards your goals, what you are doing. And find people who support you. Support yourself. Listen to people who have done things, are positive, every day. Be around those people. And take help from experts when you are stuck. Cut out negativity. You will need to let these people go. This seems like a small thing but often this is something that can drastically shift things, you and your whole organization.
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