Heroics are common in startups. Such behavior has an important roll to play but, in moderation only. Too much and your startup will burn out. I was dealing with a hero this week and realized how common heroics are in new enterprises yet how rarely the subject is discussed.
Startup heroic behavior is evidenced by "I did an all nighter again this week!" That is spoken with people bragging and with arrogance. People speak proudly of "Got the job done at the last minute (again)." Changes in business direction shift from often, become very sporadic end finally emerge as a way of life. Behaviorists note such group behavior breeds a process of work that becomes unsatisfying to the group. Physical condition rises with adrenaline rushes and crashes with exhaustion. Eating habits deteriorate as microwave popcorn and small bag snacks and protein powder grabbed on the fly replace three meals a day eaten leisurely. Health deteriorates as immune systems erode.
Central to such behavior are the following:
= fear drives heroic startup people, not confidence of winning.
= belief that first to market always wins dominates behavior, rather then first to get it right.
= high activity satisfies emotional needs, not solid results.
= naive first time leaders believe rushing triumphs, rather than excellence in execution of a good plan.
On the good side is a modified form of heroics, the kind of behavior that is not in the extreme.
I met a founder recently who told me how he had innovatively acted to substitute superior strategic partners after the more traditional large company managers who had joined his startup had settled for less than the best. That is a good example of heroics at their best. It takes courage and confidence to swim against the tide, yet in startups, such innovation attempts frequently lifts the startup to the next level of competitive advantage.
Heroics also are manifest in the form of boldness in marketing. This is especially powerful when positioning your company in a new market. To be sensational can be a terror to some startup people. But you must stand out and have the (heroic) courage to do so. Wisdom will have to prevail as to when you emerge from secret (stealth) mode and go public (loudly) to the whole world.
Teams are not built on heroics. Chaos must settle down to a pattern of directable purpose. Daily surprises must end and planned direction take over so everyone knows what to do next. Individual effort must meld with cooperation and agreement. That is a balancing act that serial entrepreneurs know how to do well. It is a must-learn for first timers.
BOTTOM LINE: Managing heroics is not taught in school. It is learned on the job. Heroics are important but need careful attention so the good overcomes the not good. When you learn that, your enterprise will be filled with innovation and refreshing direction, without sacrificing the best of the bunch of people that you have started your business with. After you master this skill, the execution of your business plan will lead you to a powerful competitive advantage. It will be indeed unfair to your competition.