If you think it's hard firing someone, imagine how hard it is to fire yourself. But sometimes that's exactly what's necessary to get your startup to the next stage of growth.

Startups go through predictable phases. The first phase is turning a prototype into a product for a paying customer; the second is going from one customer to 50 or 100; the third is expanding into new markets to hit higher revenue goals; and finally, there's the exit, when you and your investors get your money out through an IPO or acquisition.

You might not be the person to navigate risks and take your company through each of these phases. Here are four warning signs that you have outlived your usefulness for your startup.

You can't let go.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a fast-growing startup, you better be willing to hire people who are smarter than you and put them in charge of key decisions.

If you can't hire and retain a diverse roster of people who are more talented than you, you probably have a problem letting go of the day-to-day. You have to either get over your need to control everything or get out.

You're on an emotional roller coaster.

Startups go through emotional highs and lows that people don't encounter in big companies. One day, you get a positive response to your product from a big customer that could help you grow fast. A week later, the potential customer's board decides it can't do business with you.

If you get all giddy on the first day and feel like jumping off a bridge a day later, you may be too emotional to lead your startup. What your venture needs is someone who tones down the giddiness when everyone's cheering and looks at the bright side of things when bad news comes your way.

You refuse to reinvent.

Do you love your product so much that you can't imagine how others don't? This inability to see the customer's perspective means that you will fall behind competitors who do. And even if you come up with an initial product that's successful, you might not be able to come up with an improved version if a rival copies yours.

If your sales chief and best customers are telling you it's time for a new product and you're resisting, ask yourself why you won't listen.

You hate bureaucracy.

Nothing is a bigger turnoff to certain startup CEOs than the idea that they might have to hire bureaucracy--human resources executives, compliance officers, and chief accountants.

If you find repellant the thought of hiring such people--and hate all the formal processes that go with them--think about whether you're right for a company that is going beyond startup and into establishment.

If you recognize any of these signs in yourself, it's either time for you to make a big change or remove yourself from your company.

Published on: Jun 2, 2014
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