Startups are sexy. With a Facebook movie, an HBO show, and a sitting president musing about his possible future career as a VC, there's no denying it.
That's both good and bad news. It's good because growing attention is putting entrepreneurship on the radar of more and more smart people and convincing garage tinkerers and dorm room hustlers to give their dreams a shot. It's bad news (among other reasons) because it also attracts some people who are more interested in the image of the industry than the actual work of building a business.
Stop playing startup!
Groove CEO and founder Alex Turnbull has met his fair share of these folks. "Too many startups like to play startup. Too many startups are willing to go to great lengths to look like a business, far more than they're willing to actually do the work to become one," he writes recently on the Groove blog.
How do you know if you're falling into this trap and getting wrapped up in the trimmings of startup life rather than the real hard work of creating value? Turnbull goes on to list seven warning signs you're only "playing startup." I've boiled down his much longer post into quick bullet points (check out the original for all the details):
- Meeting mania. Meeting make you feel important, but they're also usually a massive waste of time, cautions Turnbull.
- Overhiring. "The bigger your team is, the more serious your company feels," notes Turnbull, but do you really need a marketing manager, a writer, a designer and a junior marketer to send out one weekly email?
- Worshipping vanity benchmarks. "Number of employees is not a metric to measure success by," insists Turnbull.
- Spending a lot of time networking. "Networking feels like work... But what other work are you trading off to do it?"
- Sponsoring conferences. Unless you have the pocketbook of someone like Salesforce, this is probably a bad idea.
- Overspending on swag. Yup, that cool office/fancy swag/nice business card makes your people feel good and impresses outsiders, "but this is another thing that many startups do before they can actually afford it," warns Turnbull.
- Constant meetings with founders and mentors. Like networking, constant meetups with others in the startup scene can be addictive... and destructive if you end up spending more time talking to other founders than you do to your customers.
Sound familiar? Don't feel too bad.
If this list made you cringe a little as you recognized one of two of these behaviors in yourself or your team, don't feel too bad. Turnbull confesses he - and just about every other entrepreneur - occasionally succumbs to the temptation to pursue vanity over substance. The trick is to recognize you're doing it early, and correct your mistakes.
Are you guilty of wasting time and mental energy in any of these seven ways?