We live in a region that offers great support to startups, particularly in technology. Because of this, I find myself talking to many people in this space. And while all these companies are working to solve different problems through technology, many of them share a common barrier to growth: founder’s syndrome — when the owner simply won’t get out of his own way.
I had coffee with a friend of mine the other morning who runs a fairly large technology firm in town. She was talking through some of the challenges she is facing in trying to grow the organization and in listening to her, it was clear she, and her team, are dealing with significant roadblocks to growth, imposed by the owner of the company. And this wasn’t the first time I heard a story like this. It’s also something I’ve experienced, personally, as well.
The story is all too familiar to many of us. The founder has a great idea. Builds a small team, forms a company and is able to grow it to a certain point. Then, he needs help to take it to the next phase. Partners and other leadership are brought in to execute the vision for growth. But, the founder is not able to trust the partners to make decisions. The founder fires the new leadership, the funding model tanks and the great idea falls apart.
Coming up with a marketable idea, building it and then, ultimately, selling it is hard enough. When Founder’s Syndrome is added to the mix, the chances for long-term success are drastically reduced. But (yes, there’s always a “but”), we need the characteristic traits of a founder — tough, stubborn and resourceful — to get anything off the ground. The tension, created by Founder’s Syndrome, is felt when other people’s talents are needed for the next step.
From the founder’s perspective, I get it. Giving up control means running the risk of going in the wrong direction. The founder feels he is the only one who knows what it takes to cross the finish line. It’s his baby. On the flip side, from the partner’s perspective, I get that, too. No one can do it alone. Of course the founder needs help. And that’s why the partner was brought in.
There are many reasons why companies struggle, especially in the technology world. But, it seems, more often than not, when a good idea — an idea that works; an idea with good market timing — ends up failing it is because of the personality of the founder.