Startups Are Not for the Lazy

lazy way to fish

October 23, 1016: There’s been a lot of talk about stamina in the Presidential campaign, and coincidentally I’m reading two books about historical figures whose success was propelled by an abundance of that trait. Startups are never easy, and, if you are the founder, you need to have a continuous reserve of energy to meet the challenges ahead. You must be able to light up the room with your enthusiasm when you are with your team, or with customers. You need always to be on your game and to stay convincing and motivating, even when dealing with the inevitable periods of bad news and difficult decisions.

Startup success, like success at anything in life, is not always granted to the person who works the hardest. There’s some luck involved, and there are many external factors over which we have no individual control. Raw intellect is an important part of the mixture, as is strength at interpersonal communications, whether one-to-one or one-to-thousands. But, the blessing of an inner drive is significant.

I’m not talking about a caffeinated high here, but a core personality that keeps you moving forward. As I look at friends of all ages, I can see the ones where that magical drive has always been present and continues even well beyond the normal retirement years. These folks are really good at getting things done and attracting followers that enable them to achieve their objectives.

If you don’t think that describes you, be extra careful if you catch startup fever. Measure yourself by your peers to see if you are suitable for the task. If you have the good fortune to be in an incubator like Austin’s Capital Factory, other individuals who are properly cast as startup leaders will surround you. Some of them may fail a few times, but odds are they’ll soon enough draw a winning hand. When I first arrived in Austin full-time nearly 6 years ago, I remember immediately associating Josh Baer with the “Energizer Bunny” of advertising legend. Right there is a great role model for the topic of this essay. I even noticed this week that he’s advertising for two assistants who can “keep up with him.” That’s all these job descriptions need to say.

None of this implies that you can’t spend some of your energy on family, recreation, staying in good physical condition, and participating in charitable or volunteer activities. The more of those you do, if you do them well, the more spark you will have for the startup grind. The more energy you expend in worthy uses of your time, the more you will have to go around. You’ll find your reserves multiplied, not exhausted. It’s a wonderful gift.

On the contrary, there are things you can do that will sap you.

One is driving yourself in the wrong direction. I’ve known some individuals who have given their all in a losing endeavor and didn’t know when to quit. Your energy level feeds on positive reinforcement; if you’re getting none of that, don’t be afraid to change course and be sure you’re doing something worthwhile. If your drive compels you always to be taking actions, but the circumstances call for a time of reflection and recalibration, don’t get caught doing for the sake of doing. You’ll be undoing much of that later. Keep yourself focused and in context.

Another is letting personnel issues eat away at you. If you create a running conflict with one or more key people on your team, you’ll find yourself dwelling on that. It’s literally depressing, and it makes it hard for you to light up the room as described above. Often times those conflicts are not based on differences in objectives but on the way you organize your group and motivate them. If you are scaling up your company, the care and feeding of your teammates is Job One. They may not all share the same level of energy that you enjoy, and they may in fact have a hard time keeping up with you, but nonetheless you need the valuable skills they bring to the table. Don’t run off and leave them in the dust and create hard feelings as a result. Everyone wants respect and fairness in the workplace.

A third energy drain can result from losing perspective of what is important. Balancing your inner drive with an appropriate amount of composure is often a smart move. Think about the rigors of business travel, which is likely part of your routine. Once you’re on the plane and it’s flying to your final destination, it’s a pretty miraculous experience. If perhaps you’re in a middle seat near the toilets with a screaming baby on one side and a very large person hogging your armrest on the other, you may not agree with me. But, generally, it seems that all the ground hassles of getting around in major cities, checking in and out of hotels, and generally having your routine disrupted can be pretty wearying for anyone. I have done more than my share of different-city-every-day trips to see customers from one end of the nation to the other, but now I’ve settled into more of a routine going back and forth between Austin and Atlanta. Even there, with all the facilities I have in place on both ends, I’m not immune from traffic calamities and other hassles. I’ve learned to remain calm when I’m stuck or delayed or queued up; why burn precious energy getting worked up about things where I have absolutely no control? Some folks like the thrill of getting to the airport at the last minute; for me it’s the opposite. I don’t have any attention disorders and can enjoy working or reading from the airport just as well as from my office, so I like to go early, get through the TSA, and enjoy the scene. Many of my business travel companions over the years have shared my philosophy, but, obviously many have not. I have in fact run through airports in the past and had people yell “Go, OJ” at me; yes a fact, but one dated to the famous period of his Hertz commercials.

In conclusion, if you are blessed with exceptional drive and stamina, be thankful, and manage them as precious assets in your career.

<Public Domain Image from National Archives and Records Administration, 1973, David Falconer, photographer. A very lazy way to fish!>