I heard an interview this morning with Imogene Anne Opton, a 1952 Olympic skier whose Jewish family barely escaped from Nazi Germany in 1938. She and her family were lucky enough to gain asylum in the US. Imogene took up skiing as a way of fitting into her new home in Vermont. When asked many years later what it took to be a successful Olympian (she beat a number of German skiers in the Olympics, but did not medal), she said "You need to go faster than you think is safe".
The same is true of startups. If you do not push the envelope in all aspects of your company, then you risk mediocrity at best and failure at worst. So how do you go faster than safe and survive? Here are a few thoughts:
- Plan well, but Aggressively--A good founder knows that having the right plan and religiously executing to the plan is the best way to meet performance objectives. Sure, stuff will go wrong, but rapid recovery and re-planning can keep the failures from defeating the entire enterprise. Rigorous monitoring of plan performance objectives and fast corrective actions will keep all on track.
- Don't Suffer Mediocrity--Not all people will work out. Those that cannot or do not follow the plan must be rehabilitated of replaced. This sounds cruel and uncaring but your employees know who is producing and who is not. The longer you keep the non-producers around, the more moral and the plan suffers.
- Be Fearless--everyone, inside and outside your company, can smell fear. That said, risk taking should not create fear, either in the founder or the company. It is your job as the founder to take calculated and visible risks (defined as ones where you DO understand possible outcomes and probabilities of success) and to motivate everyone to get on board to make them happen. No on else is going to do it...