Between the startup dreams and funding reality lies the “day in day out” stress of being a startup CEO. Sometimes maintaining a certain level of grace under pressure is tough. Sometimes, we stumble and we say unthinking things, unkind things or just plain stupid stuff.
So on the long and winding path towards startup Zen Zeitgeist, here are the top 10 things you should never ever say to your team. This list was formed through hard won experience (you can thank me later):
1) “How hard can it be to <insert task here>”
This immediately puts a person charged with the task in a lose/ lose position. If it takes longer than you think – they feel silly. And if they manage to pull it off – well there’s no glory in that. Only use that expression if you yourself have actually done the task at hand.
2) “Can you find a guy who can <insert task here>”
We’ve all uttered this phrase. I don’t think I need to explain why this is just not cool.
3) “We are building the next generation <insert hyperbole here>”
I know we all like to chase disruption but at some point – having the next disruption is not the point anymore. Stay focused on the dream you have and not about the next generation. The next generation will know what to do with itself in good time.
4) “We are going to save the world by <insert social good goal here>”
I dunno but I genuinely hope/ believe/ pray smarter heads than mine are trying to solve this mega problem. I like to keep things more down to earth like solving the problem in our industry that can be genuinely helpful.
5) “They’re not competition at all because <insert reason here>”
I never advocate being obsessed with competitors – conserve your passion for what you are doing. That said –never ever dismiss competitors out of sheer bravado. People will lose faith in your ability to grasp market shifts if you are too cavalier about competitive entrants.
6) “We are better than everyone because <insert reason(s) here>”
Related to the point above, it’s one thing to understand your point of differentiation but it’s another thing to childishly boast about how you are better. Market results will prove your point louder than any well-chosen phrase.
7) “Over the next months, we will be creating a strategy to pivot to <insert vague business sales goal>”
Pivoting is fine but it is not a strategy despite the meme quality to this phrase. In the normal sense, to pivot reflects an ability to see the real world for what it is and to act with wisdom accordingly. CEOs need to pivot but never forget how emotionally wrenching “pivoting” is for people. It suggests whatever went on before is now toast. It can be depressing to say the least.
8) “Our app will get adopted be millions people within <insert ridiculously optimistic timeframe here>”
Be sure to do the math to ensure you have a realistic idea of what can happen. Nothing undermines the confidence of a team as when you over estimate adoption curves by a lot.
9) “I guarantee that <insert promise here>”
This phrase is never ever to be uttered unless: 1) You have evolved into some Superhero with magical powers; 2) You personally will be fulfilling said guarantee or; 3) You are a prophet. Unless you fall into one these three categories – ban this expression from your lexicon.
10) “Once we hire a kick-ass sales head – then we will <insert unrealistic business dream here>
Everyone in a startup venture is a sales person. Everyone. Sure, a sales pro may help but never wait for that magical sales person or you may run out of runway room before you can afford this sales superstar.
So while the festive spirit washes over your team – keep them inspired and keep the faith too. Happy 2015.