Failure to Launch

Shawnee Love   •  
May 23, 2013

I was recently asked what are the biggest problems start ups face from a people perspective and so a blog is born.

The problems I see most often in start ups are:

Not thinking through what success looks like.  Although painful, business failure is relatively easy to deal with because there is generally nothing left but the crying.  However, success leads to all kinds of issues particularly as it relates to multiple shareholders/ founders. I encourage every start up to sit with a lawyer to develop a shareholder’s agreement which is basically a prenup for business.  Don’t think you need it?  “In love” with your co-founders?  Ask Sir Paul McCartney what he thinks.

Not having clear roles.  Again, it is easy if you are a company of 1, but as you grow, it is important to be clear about who is responsible for what.  Who’s on first and What’s on second is a famous comedy skit that I have seen come to life in start ups.  Take the time to draw out a map of who owns which functions and then stick to it.  That doesn’t mean you can’t help out in another area, just that when you are in someone else’s area, you defer to their judgment.

Not having a method to make decisions.  In the beginning, whether the company is one fearless visionary or a team of co-founders who “complete each other”, thinking about disagreement and designating someone with final say or veto feels completely unnecessary.  However, over time and particularly as the business grows , there will be disagreement.  Hopefully it is healthy and constructive, but even then, someone needs to make the final call because consensus decision making is too slow.  The solution is to designate a team captain (CEO, head cheese, grand Pooh-Bah, etc.), early and plan out how you will disagree and still move forward with everyone paddling the same direction.  Establish your decision making method before you need it and you will save yourself time and pain in the future not to mention set your business up to succeed.

Dealing with these 3 issues in the beginning when you have the time and they are just solutions to conceptual problems takes the heat out of the process and keeps the discussion fairly impersonal and business like.  Yet another example of the adage:

an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Any thoughts on start up challenges, please comment.