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How to avoid the commonest form of stupidity

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Nietzsche has once said “to forget one's purpose is the commonest form of stupidity”, but many times founders focus too much on saving fire and losing the big picture.

With so many things going on in a startup – fundraising, product development, hiring and many other ad hoc issues coming up – founders tend to be easily buried by what they see, and lost sight of what they intended to achieve at the beginning. How do we make sure founders have the ability to stay course and pave the growth path for the organizations?

Structure – gives founders free time to think

As the organization grows, founders should leave time for themselves to keep learning and thinking ahead what is the next step for the organization. The micro-managing style they were forced to have at the beginning stage needs to be adjusted, and instead they need to develop clear roles and responsibilities for the core management team and empower ownership on these people. Meanwhile it is important to have clear communication mechanisms (e.g., regular 1-on-1 check-ins,  management meetings) in place so founders are still in loop, they need to act almost like an independent assessor to step back, look at where the organization stands, and what is the next priority before the rest of the organization realizes. Same as the BzzAgent case, every startup should have a scorecard that keeps track on product, customer, partner and talent from time to time, and the founder should be the person who owns this task.

Team – solves for founders’ weaknesses

Founders start their company because they have clear skills set and knowledge to contribute. But as time goes by, some of these assets might get depreciated and more and different skills are needed. Founders and the management team needs to be objectively evaluating the key organizational needs and hire / remove people to fit such needs. An example is that my brother starts a diagnostics company, bringing in his strong technical capabilities as well as the scientific breakthrough he has developed during his time at UCLA as a bioengineering PhD. While the initial focus is to develop a strong team on product development, obtain patent and regulatory approval (and fundraising), he realized the next phase of commercializing requires marketing and sales ability that he does not have. Even though his team is still focusing on the first phase, he is already on his search on a key person that would possess such skills.

Attitude – keeps organizational growth sustainable

Founders also need to equip with a hungry and humble mindset so that they can keep learning and be flexible as the organization develops. A lot of the founders see their startup as their babies, and hard to let go their ego and initial plan as things change. Using my brother’s case as an example, he is clear about his initial goal of starting his own business is to improve the world by providing quick, accurate and affordable diagnostics to detect areas such as drug usage and sexually transmitted infections. As his company develops he understands that commercializing the product would be crucial. Meanwhile he is eager to learn about business acumen in his free time, he knows that at some point his roles in the company would change for the betterment of the company.

If founders could build the right structure and team and always hold the right attitude, then they are much less likely to commit the stupid mistakes of forgetting their goal and lost in the weeds as the organization grows.

1 thought on “How to avoid the commonest form of stupidity

  1. Great post Jenny. I’d be interested to hear more about your brothers experience as he grows his team from just product and legal people to include sales and marketing people, as I would imagine he’ll have they type of culture adjustment we’ve been discussing in class.

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