Warning Signs to Help Entrepreneurs Avoid Startup Disaster

Being passionate about your business is a good thing, right? It is, unless your enthusiasm clouds your judgment. If you’re doing or saying any of these things, you might be about to fall into the passion trap.

Warning Signs to Help Entrepreneurs Avoid Startup Disaster

Passion Trap: a self-reinforcing spiral of beliefs, choices, and actions that lead entrepreneurs to make critical miscalculations and missteps — mistakes such as significantly underestimating what is required to get a business off the ground; greatly over-assuming initial customer interest; making deep, irretrievable commitments to unproven concepts; and, in too many cases, rigidly adhering to a failing strategy until it’s too late to recover.

One of the most dangerous aspects of the passion trap is the subtle, illusory way it takes hold. On the surface, it masquerades as the kind of heroic determination that fuels every startup success story. However, when an entrepreneur becomes too emotionally attached to an idea, boldness can be transformed into arrogance. Commitment narrows into a kind of tunnel vision. Cognitive biases filter and bend incoming data to conform to the founder’s hopes and beliefs. Conversations are drained of objectivity. Even worse, these patterns are generally invisible to the founder, and their negative impact is usually delayed over time. Like a termite-infested home, the seemingly solid startup is eaten from within.

Are you in danger of being trapped?

You might be, especially if you see yourself reflected in these early warning signs. Are you…

  • Thinking or saying, “This is a sure thing!”?
  • Losing patience with people who point out risks or shortcomings in your plan?
  • Believing your solution is better than anything on the market?
  • Feeling full of energy but lacking focus and traction?
  • Measuring progress by how good you feel?
  • Expecting most of your sales to come from word-of-mouth or “viral” marketing?
  • Assuming that you are entering a space with little or no competition?    
  • Counting on immediate revenue to avoid financial problems?
  • Plotting global domination before releasing your first product?
  • Lacking clarity about where your business stands financially?
  • Delaying product releases until they are perfect?
  • Preventing things from happening without your involvement and approval?
  • Loving your product, with no idea who will buy it?
  • Hearing great “buzz” but finding few (or no) paying customers?
  • Finding yourself saying (about your customers), “They don’t get it yet, but they will!”?
  • Thinking that planning is a waste of time?

If any of these symptoms describe you or your founding team, be sure to scrutinize and evaluate your overall business idea and your “game plan.” Invite outsiders to play devil’s advocate, especially prospective customers or partners. Find ways to experiment and test your idea in the market place before putting all of your resources into a single idea. And stay open to new information, ideas, and opinions. Keep in mind that the world’s most successful businesses look very different than their founders first envisioned — including a few giants such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google.

John Bradberry has improved the performance of more than a hundred teams and a thousand leaders over two decades as an entrepreneur, consultant, and investor. He is the author of 6 Secrets to Startup Success: How to Turn Your Entrepreneurial Passion into a Thriving Business, and is CEO of ReadyFounder Services (www.readyfounder.com).

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