The Seven Deadly Startup Sins


As the holiday season approaches, with its associations toward the year past and the years ahead, my mind takes a religious turn. And so, let us now consider the deadly sins that may wipe some startups from the Earth by this time next year:

Gluttony. Startups often pile too much up on their plates. They take on too many tasks, seek too many markets. Eyes, driven by ambition, turn out to be way too big for their stomachs. The watchword: If it isn’t essential, don’t do it.

Greed. Entrepreneurs, by nature, want more. But when it comes to fund raising, this can tip over into the sin of greed. Far too often, startups raise far more money than they need because they….can. And it feeds the ego, and it gets press headlines. Most of the current spate of ICOs are representations of pure greed. “We have a plan to put $3M to work, so let’s raise $300M? Yaay!" Booh. Remember this: Whatever you drink in sips, tastes better.

Sloth. As a class, entrepreneurs aren’t lazy. But everything is relative. Among entrepreneurs are some who don’t fully buy into the essential totality of the startup experience. They seek balance in their lives. They aren’t utterly driven. In startup terms, this produces the sin of sloth. If you aren’t pressing ahead like the devil is on your heels, somewhere in the world, another team in your area is. To a startup, sloth doesn’t have to be snoozing on a chaise, it just means easing up. That can be fatal. It's a cliché, but not less true for that: If you're an entrepreneur, you can sleep when you're dead (or after you win).

Wrath. Bending the world to one’s will is so hard, it's easy to get angry when things don’t go as you know they should. Why don’t those idiot prospects get it? Why are all those investors so blind? Why did that key employee leave for such a boring corporate job? But in startups (really everywhere), anger is the enemy of clear thought and considered action. Take a breath. Take a walk. Chant your mantra. Anger is your enemy, not the world.

Envy. Why can’t we be more like them? A common cry from baby startups, often directed at bigger, more developed competitors or at the behemoths of tech upon whom many nascent businesses depend.  Anger is a distraction; envy is a seduction. It draws an entrepreneur away from the straight path of action. A company’s success isn’t dependent upon what a competitor does, but on what your company does. The only thing a startup CEO controls is that team’s actions. Focus there and create a situation where the other companies are drawn to envy you!

Lust. Well, if you read the news, this sin is clarion. Treat everyone in business with respect and within the natural confines of their roles. Never without clear consent. Ever. If you are unsure if your behavior is appropriate or not, you have already answered the question.

Pride. Entrepreneurs believe they are special. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t become entrepreneurs. But sometimes entrepreneurs come to believe they are singularly special. That they and they alone hold the truth, the keys to the kingdom. They believe they can outrun competitors. Outthink the market. Overmatch any obstacle. They act, not think. They talk, not listen. They believe they are destined to win, apart from any proof they are actually winning.  Overweening pride can ruin a startup. Over raising. Over spending. Not enough credit or regard to the team. Not recognizing—always—that the market is smarter than you are. Too much pride has shattered more startups in my experience than any other factor.

Dwell upon these sins, oh my children of the early stage. Then repent…and move forward.