How to Evolve from an Idea Person into a Founder
You’ve come up with an excellent solution to a big problem experienced by many. Your company starts today. You, by default, are its founder, but what got you to this point won’t take you very far without continued learning, decision making, and leadership skills. Most founders know, at most, 20% of what it takes to start and grow their business.
You can say you’ll cover the other 80% by adding co-founders, advisors, and new hires, but it’s not quite that easy.
You’ll need to transition from an idea person to the driving force behind your company. To succeed, you need the discipline to constantly learn, tackle issues well beyond your comfort zone, think big, and lead. Start now by building new habits that will move you forward and break old habits that are getting in your way.
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear starts with the premise that tiny changes make a big difference over time. His book spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list, with over 5 million copies sold in 50 languages.
Clear’s approach is as relevant to startups as it is to changing personal habits. How successful or unsuccessful you are today is in the past. What matters is whether you’re building habits that will keep you on the path to success.
Your behaviors are a reflection of your identity. What you do is an indication of the type of person you believe you are. Once you believe in a particular aspect of your identity, you’re more likely to act in alignment with that belief. Start today being the Founder you wish to become. Ask yourself, “who is the type of person that could build and run a successful startup?” What habits do successful founders exhibit? Then, start building habits that will transform your identity into that type of person.
In the process, you’ll need to eliminate habits that work against your transformation. By editing your beliefs and acquiring new habits consistent with your objectives, you’ll upgrade and expand your identity. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when the habit you’ve built becomes part of your identity.
Winners and losers have the same goals. It’s safe to assume that everyone in the 100-meter sprint shared a common goal of winning. Ultimately, one person won, and 7 were also-rans. It’s no different for startups, they all want to succeed, but most lose. If everyone had the same goals, what differentiated the winners from losers?
All goals can do is set a direction. Yours should be to develop habits that help you become the Founder you wish to become. Goals define what you want to achieve, but your systems, business model, business plan, honest market research, and decision-making are the processes that cause you to succeed or fail.
Systems are the processes that lead to results. Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your Founder habits and those of your team play a significant role in developing and adhering to your systems. Your habits set the stage; they define much of how you will lead and your expectations of others.
Your systems go deeper than your business model and plan. Systems include how you’re going to test product ideas, market research, identify and hire new people, and how you’ll run marketing campaigns. Building and adhering to well-designed systems will keep you in the game.
Confusing motion with progress is a trap. James Clear used this example, one I often see in clients, and one I’ve been guilty of it as well:
“You think, I’ve got conversations going with four potential clients right now. This is good. We’re moving in the right direction. Or, I brainstormed some ideas for that book I want to write. This is coming together. Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to merely be planning. You want to be practicing.”
Procrastination happens when you’re bumping up against the limits of your comfort zone. What you should be doing is challenging and is outside your comfort zone. By far the worst, and most common cause, is that you’re afraid of what you might find out. If this is where you are, stop everything. What worries you the most about your business defines your highest priority issue to solve. Concern regarding product/market fit is likely your biggest concern. Everything depends on it. Confirming a market exists is critical. Breaking your Confirmation Bias habit is vital. If you have a habit of only using data that supports your thesis, or if you’re only focussing on a few customer conversations that support your view, kill that habit now.
The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right. Working on challenges of just manageable difficulty – something on the edge of your ability – is crucial for maintaining motivation. If you hit the Goldilocks Zone just right, you can experience being “in the zone” and fully immersed in an activity.
Every successful business has to execute at least five key business functions. Solo founders are experts in one, maybe two. From that position, things often look too hard. Realizing this late in the game causes panic, leading you to bring on the wrong team, compounding the problem further. With a solid team, your collective “Goldilocks Zone” raises the bar dramatically. Individuals can come up with ideas, but highly skilled teams are the ones that build successful companies.
It doesn’t matter how successful or unsuccessful you are right now. If you’re going to evolve from a self-proclaimed Founder to one that succeeds, you first need to understand what being a founder means and build critical habits that will get you there.
Learn constantly – It is critical that you gain a fundamental understanding of important functions in your company that lay outside of your current comfort zone.
Prioritize – Don’t confuse motion with progress. If you have a plan, stick to it if you don’t build around your product-market fit and value proposition.
Lead by example – You’ve decided whom you want to be now. Be that person in the eyes of your stakeholders – co-founders, employees, customers, and investors.
Question everything – Especially your assumptions. Confirmation bias can send you a long way down the wrong road before reality smacks you in the face.
Focus on your systems – Once you know you have a market for your product, execution is everything.
Build the habits to be the Founder you need to become and eliminate those that get in your way – put you and your company on the path of continuous improvement – increase your odds of success and START TODAY.