3 Ways To Know You’re A ‘Survivalist’ And Not A Start-up Any More

When you start a business it can, and should, be an exhilarating adventure as you step into a whole new way of being with yourself, your peers, your market and even your family and friends.

Taking the step into entrepreneurship is usually one full of trepidation, worry, unknowns and stresses. The downsides of being a company owner are rarely discussed, rarely acknowledged and are almost always front and centre for every business founder.

If you’re going to become a ‘start-up’ my single biggest advice is don’t do it alone.

Make sure you have an equal business partner who is as excited as yourself to be going on the adventure. Someone that you trust enough to open up to when the stresses become close to tipping edge. Someone that you can raise your wine glass to when you know you’ve just done something amazing. Someone that you don’t have to explain what it is you do, where you’re going, which clients are a pain and why. Someone that gets you and the business as much as you do.

And then you grow.

Your cornerstone client leads to an ever expanding sense of who the company is and you gain recognition, orders and something resembling a steady revenue stream. Or maybe you flipped early on and you realised that your original idea wasn’t for your company but dived into more lucrative opportunities and are now differently successful to how you initially envisaged.

However you get there you are no longer a start-up.
Your company is a “survivalist”. You have survived the initial 12-18 month ‘new business cull’ and have made it to the wide open sea. Surviving has been how it has felt and you have done it.

Well done! You have made it further than many.

You’re ready to grow into something more solid, more sustainable and, very likely, something that doesn’t require your 24-hour-a-day hand holding or your 7-day-a-week brain space. Doesn’t that sound nice. Maybe even a chance for a holiday?

It’s at this point you (the royal “you”, the co-founders, key investors and staff) must give yourself time, space and energy to take a breath and being thinking about the company in a different way.

[analogy] You’ve learnt to drive, you’ve managed to stay legal, travel the country and even take some people on a cracking journey but the car is too slow, too small and just not gonna get you all to where you want. You’re now driving with the foot full on the floor but you’re getting speed wobbles, the engine is screaming and at anytime soon it could all end badly.

Without changing cars (getting a bigger engine, more seats, better speakers) it’s all go tits up. But you love your car, you’ve had so many adventures in it, it’s who you are. Nope, the journey and the people are who you are, the car is merely the vehicle (!) that you currently using to get it all around.
[/analogy]

Time to step out of that car boys and girls!

Here’s 3 quick techniques I use to help companies understand that they are going to have to be different in order to grow into and beyond being “survivalist”.

1: Think of your business as a vehicle

… OK, you’ve just read all about how I work with business people that love cars / travel / movement or even engines, moving parts and craftsmanship.

Most people get that things are speeding up, getting bigger and there’s just more stuff to move around and do. And it’s rare for me to have explain much deeper that the current vehicle, the structure and makeup of the organisation being used, just won’t take the strain anymore.

Oh, and this analogy hooks to fondly remember trips and, for a certain demographic, it can be a main line into the particular emotional veins that is the Kiwi OE with the kombi van 🙂

2: Look to your heroes and find out when they changed

Quickly work with the staff to find out who in their pond do they respect. For tech companies where I do most, but not all, of my work companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple are common superstar companies that you can quickly find the moment they stepped out of the start-up car and into a much bigger vehicle.

The same can be said for local heroes such as +Xero Accounting Software, Catalyst (both “.. IT” and “.. 90“), +Vend Point of Sale  and many more. You can also see some local companies going through it right now; some have started the transformation such as Alphero, some are in the midst, such as OptimalBI and others are just about to think about maybe this is something we should do, NZRise springs to mind.

You’ll notice I focus on the when which is important; the how your heroes grew is likely to be very specific to them  and not relevant to you. The point of the exercise is not to copy the how but to realise that this is normal and expected evolution that businesses experience and that everyone has to do it.

3: Ask yourself, your staff and your peers

This is the one I normally reserve for those that are coming to the end of their tether – but don’t let that be you, prevention is much better than cure!

If the fun has gone, the shine of new business has dulled and day-to-day drudgery resembles your previous pod-like office life then you are onto a winner. You are becoming those companies you wanted to leave, You are growing, processes are starting to creep in, meetings are becoming formalised and you can no longer do what you want do whenever you want. And damn this is MY company.

If your staff are struggling getting the basics done and are looking for support then this is also a good thing. The company has grown, you are getting bigger but haven’t realised it.

And finally, if you’re hearing from your peers that you need to “be more professional”, “start acting properly” and even, “stop messing about” this is a GOOD THING! They know you have survived and want you to keep growing. I am in no way suggesting that their advice is valid, but the very fact they are saying something like that means it’s time think differently than day one.

So there ya go, 3 small ways to realise that you need to stop being a “start-up” and start being a “survivalist”.

All just common sense eh … for some people these mind shift / behaviour changes come naturally and certainly those that have been through the process before it’s certainly a lot easier the second time, third time and onwards. For others it is VERY tough, especially for people that get the rush of adrenaline from living on the edge, from the speed and agility needed to stay afloat and from the sheer fun of creation. For these people* growing up and letting go of the old to make room for the new is tough and having support is vital.

Whatever your own inner demons are be they scared to succeed (a common Kiwi reason not to want to change) or unsure how to keep the wheels on know:

  1. You’re not alone
  2. It’s not unusual
  3. We’re here to help

* I can reveal I am one of those people – which is why I can live in the “start-up/survivalist” world and know what is needed to grow companies up and out of my interest realm. And the more that I am able to do that with the happier my soul becomes.

Main picture source: LEMONYIP LIVIN: Deep Into New Zealand With Ricardo Chrisitie

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