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You’re 30 minutes late (again).
You’re answering a text while listening in on a conference call, while (kind of) participating in a conversation with your colleague while sharing a Lyft ride to your next meeting.
The text has typos; you’ve absorbed next to nothing from the conference call and failed to hear a thing your colleague has said.
You call it multi-tasking.
You call it being a founder.
I call it Frantic Founder Syndrome.
You have considerable powers. All founders do. You’re great at the big stuff — telling a story and inspiring followers across the spectrum. People want to work with you, invest in you, and try your products. You’re equally adept at the little (crazy important) stuff. You can review a contract and build a financial model. You can craft a product plan and interview a user.
But at some point, that which serves you well can be your downfall. As your company grows, so does its complexity. In the very beginning, here are your touch points — a couple of employees, a couple of vendors, a handful of (prospective) users, zero investors, zero partners, and zero board members. Fast forward 18–24 months. Touchpoints now include ten employees (possibly all direct reports), a dozen vendors, tens or hundreds or thousands of users, multiple investors, multiple partners, and a (hopefully) functioning board of directors.
During this transition, founders often hit a predictable wall. What worked as a management style the first 2~ years grossly does not work anymore. So what do they do? They try harder. They sleep less. They use shorter sentences. They listen less. They exercise less. They think less. They plan less. They react more. They go off a cliff. Migraines, emotional outbursts, and physical failures are common. The team sees what is happening, but there often is no safe space to engage the founder. She/he is a zombie — a well-intentioned, passionate, barely-self-aware zombie. This is Frantic Founder Syndrome.
What can you do about it? If you’re a founder reading this and some of what I’ve typed hits home, there is only one fix. Slow down. You’re doing everything right now, which means, most likely, you’re doing everything poorly. Take a half (or better yet a full) day away from the office, away from email, away from meetings. Pull in a trusted confidant and view your business from a different vantage point. Stand on your desk, Dead Poets style. You know your business. You know your market. Stop working IN your business and instead work ON your business. Decide what’s really most important right now and move everything else off your list.
If you’re a member of a startup where a founder is suffering from FFS, three recommendations:
1) Send them this article 🙂
2) Ask for some alone time with her/him. Do it away from the office. Even just a 30 min walk without phones or distractions. Ask the question, “What are the most important things for the company right now?” Then ask, “What can we take off your plate so you can work on those things?” Discussion of those two questions, I suspect, will fill the entire 30 minutes. It won’t solve everything, but hopefully, it will awaken the founder to the gap between what she/he is working on and what they know to be most important.
3) If #2 feels unsafe, then go have the same conversation with the most senior person on the team with whom you do feel safe. Share that your motivation is from a place of empathy for the founder and love for the company.