On Start-ups: Excitement Vs. Fear
I really hope you didn’t think with my last post that I was done writing about start-ups. Perhaps you assumed that all the “you don’t know what you’re talking about” blowback would discourage me. I wouldn’t be much of a start-up guy if that was true, would I?
That’s probably a debate of semantics for another day, but for the purposes of this post, I want to talk about two emotions which drive the success of a company.
Excitement and fear.
Excitement Is Everything
Excitement is oxygen. Excitement is contagious. Excitement inspires and incents.
Better still, excitement breeds the excited.
The excited band together. The excited are the inspired. The excited change the world. The excited are optimistic and boundless and driven.
Excitement is why your employees get up in the morning, why they work until 2 in the morning only to come back in at 8. Excitement is why they will accept less salary, less notoriety, less stationary. Excitement is why they won’t care about having the corner office, or vacationing to Switzerland, and saying goodbye to friends who work outside of your company.
Excitement is the lightning in a bottle that makes your company that hot start-up, that draws in talent, that piques the curiosity of investors, that attracts – and keeps – customers, that pushes people to be the best of the best and even that little bit more of the best that even they themselves don’t even think they can be.
The excited build teams and bridges. The excited move fast and break things. The excited excel and accelerate.
Excitement is everything.
Fear Takes Everything
Fear is the anathema of excitement.
Fear is methane. Fear chokes and corrodes and corrupts. Fear paralyzes and punishes. It hinders and haunts and hurts.
Worse yet, fear breeds the fearful.
The fearful draw lines in the sand and prioritize the protection of property over progress. The fearful build processes to manage risk and to assure molasses-like trudges away from the known. The fearful are controlling and controlled and contradictory.
The fearful react to competitors rather than listen to customers. The fearful turn inward and fight over optics rather than outcomes. The fearful break teams down.
Fear takes everything.
Just ask Uber.
Be The Excited
So, how do you do avoid fear? It’s actually super fucking easy – stunningly so given how often it's done wrong.
Create excitement with transparency. The more your team knows about each other’s amazing work, the more they can leverage and draw value from one another’s work, the more they’ll love where they are.
Create excitement with collaboration. The more your teams contribute to one another’s work, the more you’ll ship and the more you’ll sell. The goalie benefits when the striker scores, after all.
Create excitement with autonomy. Let your team figure things out, as the reward will be a happy customer or a lesson learned every time. Your team will learn faster than you can teach them yourself.
Create fear with secrecy. Go read Steve Jobs’ biography and assume you can follow that playbook and see the same results. You’re Steve Jobs, right?
Create fear with silos. Pit teams and talent against one another. Humiliate them when they don’t make the grade. Publicly pick favourites. You don’t need the shit staff anyway, right?
Create fear with micromanagement. Publicly flog dissenters when they make a mistake and overreact to what isn’t that big of a deal in the first place. Ensure that decisions aren’t made without your approval. You don’t need surprises, right?
Whatever you do, though, understand that those two emotions have just as much to do with your success as your brilliant idea and business acumen.