Last year, I was catching up with a former colleague who had just received funding for his startup. He told me excitedly that he expected to be retired and living in a villa in Tuscany in five years... even though his company did not yet have a product or any customers. Wait, what?
His early retirement plans did not shock me. Having spent the last 20-plus years living and working in Silicon Valley, I have heard similar plans many times. And years ago, when I was a little less wise, I might have mumbled something similar myself.
Experience can be a wise teacher. Too many founders and product builders focus on the money -- mentally cashing in before they produce anything of value. Sometimes it is just their mindset, and other times large investments from venture capitalists bring large checks and unrealistic expectations.
But one thing is true almost every time across the board. The only "exit" these distracted founders experience is a personal one -- from the business.
They are missing out on the most simple and obvious business strategy there is -- build something people love. When you put in the time and effort to create a product that helps people and makes their lives easier, success will follow.
I write about this extensively in my provocative new bestselling book Lovability, where I share tools for building products that people love and for achieving sustainable success. I also share cautionary tales of what not to do.
Your experience is your own, but I suggest that you think about building a different type of company. This means pushing aside everything you read about building companies today and do your best to avoid these five distractions:
Distraction 1: Raising lots of money
The quest for money will overshadow the goal of building a viable business. You should self-fund your business and avoid taking other people's money for as long as you possibly can.
Distraction 2: Building the bare minimum
Focused on building the most stripped-down product just to get to market? This breeds an employee culture that is about cutting corners, rather than delivering what is truly loved.
Distraction 3: Hiring a sales team
Traditional salespeople focus on monetary gains, often without fully knowing the product. This makes it difficult to deliver real customer value. So, take the focus off money -- eliminate commissions and hire people who deeply understand the customer and product. And then offer that product to customers at a reasonable price.
Distraction 4: Renting expensive office space
When you are trying to build a great product and a sustainable base of loyal customers with no outside investment, every dollar counts. So the money you spend on office space matters. Hire the best people you can wherever they may be.
Distraction 5: Eating steak and lobster
Extravagance pulls your focus from the only thing that should matter -- creating extraordinary products and experiences that delight customers and win their loyalty. One nice meal will not break you, but avoid spending the company's money like it is your own, so that you can focus on what is essential.
It is easy to get distracted when you are building a business. There are millions of decisions to make and everyone has an opinion (including this author). And when you make a mistake? That is when people chime in the loudest. But staying grounded and in control will give you the best chance for success.
So, forget about that Tuscan villa and what might become of those early retirement plans. Get back to the meaningful work of building something lasting that you can be proud of and will make customers' lives better.
What distractions have you seen on startup teams?