Slow Down. It Might Save Your Business.
Sometimes, when I’m telling a young entrepreneur that slowing down makes a lot more sense than hurrying along what will most likely turn out to be the wrong road, I get the sense that I could just as well be talking to the radio. It might make me feel better, but it doesn’t really change anything.
I see that glazed look in the entrepreneur’s eye, and I know what he or she is thinking. It’s exactly what I might have thought myself 30 or 40 years ago, when I’m sure I didn’t listen any more closely to my own mentors: This guy is old. He doesn’t want to charge up the hill because he’s tired. He doesn’t have the “start-up” spirit any more.
This is a big issue for three reasons:
1. Lots of young, eager and energetic young entrepreneurs get hooked on the adrenaline buzz and constant stimulation of living on the edge and doing something new and different every day. They can’t or won’t take the time to slow down and catch their collective breath; to take stock of their situation; and to really think about what should come next. It’s too easy to confuse meetings for movement, motion for forward progress, and smoke and mirrors for substance.
2. The very culture of start-ups and the myth of killer customer service breeds a “can do” attitude that treats the everyday business as a constant emergency and a fire drill. You have everyone running around fighting fires and no one minding the store. That’s a formula for failure, and a great way to burn out your best people. A good test is to ask yourself whether you are working off your inbox (in which case you’re reacting) or whether the business is working off your outbox (in which case you’re leading).
3. Managing and growing a business is all about carefully navigating and trying to hold your course through complex and changing circumstances. If you’re consumed by the immediate, you aren’t going to be asking the questions that will determine the future course of your business. These aren’t the kinds of questions that walk in your door and deposit themselves in your inbox. The really tough questions won’t come to you--they will have to come from you. Your original business plan is a good guide and a useful reference, but only if you stop from time to time and use it to see where you thought you’d be, where you’ve been, and where you’re headed.
Going slow from time to time isn’t about age or energy. It’s about conserving scarce resources and applying them smartly. It’s about essential course corrections and changes, and, most importantly, it’s about making sure that your team is with you and right there beside you, and that you’re continuing to bring them along and not running away from them.
My second-least popular piece of advice is that not everything worth doing is worth doing well. Apparently this concept stinks of compromise, settling, and accepting necessary evils. Those, in turn, violate some unwritten law of entrepreneurship and the manner in which we are all obliged to conduct the sacred crusades that we call start-ups.
But the best leaders understand that you can’t do everything at the same time, with the same energy and speed, and with all the resources at your disposal. This doesn’t mean you’re a sucker or a sell-out. Most of the time, it means that you’re being smart and keeping some powder dry. It’s equally foolish to try to do something on the cheap that you shouldn’t do at all.
All too often I see people driving themselves crazy trying to accommodate foolish, unrealistic or insincere requests from investors, customers, vendors, or even their own people, and wasting their time and money in the process. In many cases, they’re just going through the motions. They know it’s stupid, too, and that the end result won’t actually matter to anyone.
So give yourself a break. Take some time, take stock, make some hard choices, and, believe me, your business will thank you.
HOWARD TULLMAN | Columnist
Howard Tullman is the CEO of 1871 in Chicago where, at the moment, 260 digital startups are building their businesses every day. He is also the general managing partner of G2T3V, LLC and Chicago High Tech Investors – both early-stage venture funds; a member of Mayor Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT Innovation Council; and Governor Quinn’s Illinois Innovation Council. He is an adviser to many technology businesses and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. @tullman