Frantic (adj.): Wild or distraught with fear, anxiety, or other emotion. Conducted in a hurried, excited, and chaotic way, typically because of the need to act quickly."
My phone lit up at 1 a.m. It was a text from the brand manager of a startup client my company was developing a brand for: "Are you up? Can you talk right now? We need to discuss our analytics."
Having worked with startups for many years, I'd like to say these frantic acts are a rare occurrence. But oh, quite the contrary. A state of panic seems to be the norm. But what if you're so busy romancing hyper growth for growth's sake and living for your next round of funding that you can't see the holes you're putting in your own ship? Despite the belief that a frantic atmosphere magically injects your team with energy and purpose for the work -- I can say with certainty -- it doesn't.
Startups aren't beautiful. They're messy. Big as life and twice as real. More and more, I witness frantic leaders reject strategic thinking, create culture chaos, and launch half-baked ideas, which compromises their ability to be successful.
Here's how your frantic ways are sinking your startup:
Money Over Matter
Your business is desperate for another round of funding. You need to raise money or the doors will close, period. What would you do? You'd try to sell "X" number of units or ramp up services as fast as you can.
The amount of pressure I'm seeing founders put on their teams regarding growth is downright scary. In fact, the vision-crushing ritual of pleasing investors and meeting quotas can lead your company into dangerous waters. It can even crush your greater purpose. When you expect everyone to work at a frantic pace, you quickly create an environment where people succumb to the pressure, and therefore don't make great decisions. It's fine to hustle hard, but don't forgo money over matter. Focus on building a meaningful company, not a soul-sucking machine.
Hot Sauce on the Brain
When you label everything "urgent", or you constantly change your mind, it sends a ripple of panic through the organization. It requires many people to stop what they're doing and switch gears, resulting in wasted time and capital. It also leads to stress and frustration among employees, which can cause culture strain and implode communication.
At Motto, we call this type of leadership behavior "hot sauce on the brain." If you want to build something of value, you need to prioritize and lead with a solid strategy to make informed decisions, not hasty ones. Your calm and focused leadership will help your team run smoothly and protect them from frying under pressure.
You Hire Quick and Cheap
Most startups will do anything to save money. That includes hiring affordable, unqualified people instead of top talent. This isn't always bad if you're willing to train them, but that requires time and resources that most startups aren't willing to shell out.
If you hire quick and cheap, you'll wind up with the wrong hires. The bottom line cost of a bad hire includes hiring costs, compensation, disruption costs, severance, mistakes, failures, and culture misalignment. In addition to the financial costs, you also have to consider productivity costs, employee morale costs, and larger reputation costs.
When you throw unskilled people to the wolves and leave them to their own devices, they tend to get frustrated and unhappy. And without proper intervention and training, you can expect them to put in their two weeks within the first year. Hire slowly, give them an inspiring environment, and seek people who align with your values -- that's how you find top talent and keep them.
You're Unrealistic About What It Takes To Really Build a Brand
I'm not a fan of the lean startup approach to branding and I'll explain why--it inspired thousands of entrepreneurs to rush to market with premature ideas and ill-prepared brands. Leaders are often faced with lofty objectives and targets defined by investors and consultants. These people may have good intentions, but their demands are unrealistic. This causes increased pressure and strain on leaders who will do anything to meet those demands.
I see many founders investing all their money on product dev and undervalue the importance of brand in the success (or failure) of their company. Waiting too long to invest in brand is a terrible mistake. With so many things to do and so little time to do them, startup leaders often project this too-little too-late mindset onto their organization. This results in penny-pinching, half-baked efforts and misfired ideas across all fronts. If you don't give employees or your brand partners enough financial resources and time to do their best work, you sabotage their ability to deliver. When constantly pressed for time and money, people lower their standards and mediocrity becomes acceptable.
The moral? Invest in your brand. Rome was not built in a day and neither will your brand. You can always do it cheap and fast, but as they say, "The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."