INNOVATE

The Hidden Reason Why Founders Fail

When it comes to making sound business decisions, this one thing keeps getting in the way.
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Have you ever had your pet euthanized? It’s gut-wrenching. When Toby, my 13-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, had cancer, there came a time when I had to kiss him goodbye for the last time and hand him over to the vet.

A few days ago, I had to do the same with my old website. Granted, it’s not quite the same task. But it was gut-wrenching nonetheless. Back in 1996, when I started the website (NoBrainerBlinds.com), it was an innovative way to sell blinds. Not so much today.

Eight years later, we launched the Blinds.com website and it went on to become the No. 1 online blinds website in the world. Although NoBrainerBlinds continued to move product, we finally decided that its time in the sun was over. Taking it down (actually, we redirected the traffic) was the right, objective business decision. But it made me realize how much emotions can get in the way of making sound business decisions.

We’ve all heard the stories: The founder of the company had the skills and passion to jumpstart an idea, maybe the salesmanship, but not the leadership and organizational skills necessary to lead a company through all the stages that lie ahead.

And here is where many founders ultimately fail.

Building a company past the initial stage still requires passion. But you also must develop a level of emotional detachment. In addition to ditching your old website, like I did, at some point you might have to ditch processes that worked just fine in the past.

Then there’s the hardest decision of all—changing people. But it’s necessary: Sometimes, those who got you where you are today don’t function as effectively when everything moves up another notch.

The founder’s sincere gratitude for the past can prevent her from making sound decisions. Who has the heart to tell your first employees that they have not grown sufficiently and lack the skills necessary today?

Here are a few tips:

  • Make it clear that everyone must continue to learn and increase their skills. Even you! Then you’re bound to be looking forward rather than backward.
  • Ask for guidance from outsiders, such as your advisory board and peer groups. Make sure you are not holding on to your past out of comfort or, worse, pity.
  • Know thyself. Understand that you, like most people, have a blind side. Clinging emotionally to the past can be one of them.

I’m not saying you should forget the past. I’ll never forget Toby my dog or NoBrainerBlinds.com. On the contrary, keep the lore alive by telling stories from the past and celebrating it. But see it for what it was: good for the time, but not necessarily relevant now.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Feb 28, 2012

JAY STEINFELD | CEO, Blinds.com

JAY STEINFELD is the founder and CEO of Blinds.com, the industry leader in online window covering sales that was recently acquired by The Home Depot. Jay is a passionate advocate for amazing (and profitable) company culture.




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