Most startup founders realize they have about a 50-50 chance of making it to their fifth anniversary. Yet plenty don’t know about the recent research that suggests the key to staying afloat doesn’t lie in the quality of their product, the strength of funding, or market demand. Instead, it comes down to their habits--and far too many founders are honing the art of self-sabotage.

When Good Entrepreneurs Choose Bad Behaviors 

The research study, conducted by Aperio Consulting Group on behalf of Centennial Investors, pinpoints the entrepreneurial traits most linked to startup longevity and the habits most often associated with startup demise. Ironically, some actions connected with business decline are those frequently expected of leaders.

For instance, hard work should lead to entrepreneurial success, right? Not if it’s really an overexertion habit, or as the study puts it: “an individual’s tendency to push themselves beyond reasonable limits, [which] ... can easily result in injury, mental and emotional burnout, and a host of serious health issues.” When a startup founder is burned out, his or her venture is bound to suffer.

Entrepreneurs who have traits associated with success can still sabotage themselves through counterproductive habits. If you’re worried that your fledgling company could fail because you’re not concentrating your mental and financial resources in the right directions, start prioritizing the following behaviors now. You’ll have a statistically higher chance of celebrating half a decade in business if you do. 

1. Work hard, but not to the point of exhaustion

Getting an organization off the ground probably won’t happen if you clock in at 9 and leave promptly at 5. At the same time, you shouldn’t sacrifice every precious moment to your business. Studies have shown that all those martyrs who brag about working 70-hour weeks probably aren’t accomplishing more than their counterparts working 50 hours. You must learn to recognize when you are at a point of diminishing returns. 

Signs you’ve hit the skids include constantly becoming sick, not being able to sleep at night, and experiencing mood swings. That’s not exactly what you want to feel day-in, day-out. Set your tasks aside to refresh and unwind during the weekend. When you return to your laptop, you’ll be more focused and less stressed. It may sound too simple to be true, but getting enough rest, eating healthy, staying active, and making time for family and friends can all go a long way toward helping you avoid burnout. 

2. Run a stake through the heart of overconfidence

It takes confidence to walk into a room full of potential investors and own the meeting. Overconfidence, however, turns you into a blowhard who turns off angels even when they like your product. Is there a fine line between the two attitudes? Perhaps. But you owe it to your business to figure out that line’s location. One of the most obvious calling cards of an overconfident entrepreneur is an inability to ask for help. Rather than relying on supporters, such an entrepreneur believes he or she is the only one who can make decisions for his or her startup.

Another hallmark is the basically competent founder who thinks he or she is far more proficient than he or she is, a great example of the famous Kruger-Dunning effect. People who suffer from this cognitive bias push others away and end up derailing great ideas. To avoid overconfidence, don’t fall in love with your solution. It’s imperative that you remain capable of criticizing and experimenting with your idea and open to pivoting your startup. To prevent yourself from becoming too confident in your initial idea, adopt a customer-centric business philosophy and strategy. When your mind is always going back to your customers and their pain points, you’ll be less likely to succumb to entrepreneurial chutzpah. 

3. Don’t hide your idea under a bushel basket

Have you been keeping your “next big thing” to yourself? Stop worrying about the recipe for your secret sauce and start talking up the meal. You’ll gain important insights from the reactions listeners have to your idea. The more people who know what you’re trying to do, the more people who can provide crucial feedback and help you make your vision a reality. You don’t have to go into all of the nitty-gritty details, but feel free to share your overall concept.

If you let yourself flap your gums a little, you may ultimately find partnership opportunities and funding streams you wouldn’t otherwise. Talk to family, friends, and coworkers, studying their reactions and amount of enthusiasm for your product or service. As your idea begins moving forward, be sure to share your plans with potential customers. Their feedback will be valuable as you find ways to validate your idea for investors. Try sending out surveys and cold emails to gain insights from people who don’t know you personally. You can even set up a crowdfunding page. If you only raise 2 percent of your goal, it might be time to do more market research. 

Becoming a founder requires you to take a serious look at the way you approach your behaviors. It’s OK to make mistakes, but it’s also important to rectify them. Remember that truly successful entrepreneurs are typically humble, hardworking (but not overworked), and eager to learn.

Published on: Jan 18, 2019
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