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STARTUP

Your Company Has a Perception Problem

Here's how to find balance between external perceptions and the internal realities of the current state of your business.

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Every start-up faces a very real gap between external perceptions and internal realities. On the outside, product launches and press give the impression of success and momentum, but on the inside, the vision for the company will always outstrip the current state of the business. As a result, it's normal to feel—now and then at least—like the walls are crumbling around you.

There will always be a big difference between what people think and what's actually happening inside of a start-up. The important part is not to get caught up in either. Below are a few realizations that have helped our team at Napkin Labs maintain a balanced perspective of our progress.

Realize Hype is Just Hype.

When you read the news, it's easy to think that every other start-up is sailing effortlessly to millions of dollars in funding, millions of users, or millions of something else you want. Sure, other companies may be doing big things, but if you spend enough time with start-up CEOs, you'll realize that pretty much all entrepreneurs face the same issues and challenges, and all have huge visions for the future that they are impatiently waiting to achieve.

It always seems like when I have a 15-minute conversation with an entrepreneur, I hear how their company is primed to be the next Facebook. But when I have an hour-long conversation, I start to see all of the challenges that are keeping them up at night. It's critical to not get caught up in the hype of others or the hype around your own company. Both can lead to bad decisions. Stay grounded by remembering that start-ups are never easy. No matter how good things may seem, there’s still more hard work to be done.

Understand That Feedback Should be Put in Context.

After the launch of our first product at Napkin Labs, our user community quickly alerted us of some missing features and design flaws. I immediately called a meeting with the team and listed out all of the challenges we faced. Instead of putting the conversation in the context of, "We have come so far and launched a great first iteration of our product," I fixated on the negative, which set a really negative tone for the team and diminished the huge amount of work they had put in.

In retrospect, I should have emphasized the progress we made to get our product to this point and that it was huge to know what areas needed our focus. New ideas and feedback are the lifeblood of a start-up, and it's super important to reiterate this with your team.

Step Back if You Want to See Progress.

Entrepreneurship is a roller-coaster of emotions. In just one day you can go from the high of raising a round to the the low of losing a major deal you were counting on. With a front row seat to everything that's happening inside of your company, it's easy for your problem-solving instincts to take over and latch onto the challenges at hand. One thing I've realized is that it's important to step away as a team and talk about where we were one month, six months, and one year ago. It puts everything in perspective and lets us see some amazing progress that we may otherwise overlook.

What has your experience been with balancing internal realities and external perceptions? Are there other key realizations that have helped you keep your team focused and positive? Share your stories below and keep the conversation going!

Last updated: Jan 25, 2012

RILEY GIBSON is the co-founder and CEO of Napkin Labs, a start-up that builds tools to help companies turn their Facebook fans into an army of collaborators for new insights and ideas. For more, check out the Napkin Labs blog.
@RileyGibson




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