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Big Company Disease is Most Often Fatal For Startup Companies

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” – Albert Schweitzer

In the world of startups, there’s a concept called “big company disease” that can hinder growth and innovation. It’s often caused by easy access to capital, lack of adaptability, and a misalignment with the realities of early-stage ventures. During the dot-com bubble, this ailment spread rapidly as companies secured significant funding without solid business plans. CEOs from large corporations or recent graduates were placed at the helm, leading to unrealistic expectations and unsustainable ventures.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs

However, the landscape has shifted, and it’s time to return to rationality and realistic expectations. The signs of “big company disease” are crucial to identify, as they can impede the success of startups in their infancy.

“Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” – George Herbert

Startups must focus on targeted solutions that are about 70% to 80% complete, as opposed to striving for perfection. The early stage is a dynamic and ever-changing period where adaptability and speed are paramount. This is a departure from the mindset of large corporations that often prioritize exhaustive planning and intricate strategies.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates

Here are some telltale signs that your startup might be grappling with “big company disease”:

  1. You find yourself implementing unnecessary services, like watering plants, instead of staying tightly focused on core business goals.

  2. The idea of having dedicated managers who don’t actively contribute to tasks seems normal.

  3. Decision-making takes an excruciatingly long time, hampering your ability to respond swiftly to market changes.

  4. Employees wear only one hat, whereas startups thrive when team members embrace various roles.

  5. If there’s a surplus of idle time or individuals attempting to appear busy, it could be a sign of inefficiency.

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“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” – Warren Buffett

  1. The existence of multiple decision-making layers stifles agility, as opposed to startups where quick decisions are imperative.

  2. If the CEO isn’t involved in critical decisions and doesn’t have a finger on the financial pulse, the startup might be losing touch with its financial health.

  3. Titles like COO, President, or “Chief Strategy” Officer can indicate a corporate mindset that doesn’t align with startup agility.

  4. Prioritizing internal politics over customer satisfaction indicates a skewed focus, detrimental to startups aiming to please their audience.

  5. A lack of interpersonal relationships and a hesitance to communicate openly could suggest a hierarchical structure rather than a collaborative startup environment.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius

It’s crucial to recognize these symptoms early on and actively address them. Startup success relies on nimbleness, adaptability, and a relentless focus on customers and growth. Entrepreneurs must be prepared to pivot, iterate, and make swift decisions. Avoiding the pitfalls of “big company disease” requires a shift in mindset, embracing the startup ethos of agility, risk-taking, and innovation.

Bob Norton is a long-time Serial Entrepreneur, CEO and investor who founded six companies with four exits that returned over $1 billion to investors for a 25X ROI. Two others are still in development. He has trained, consulted and advised thousands of Entrepreneurs, CEOs and boards since 2002. Mr. Norton works with companies to 2X to 10X growth rates and valuation using AirTight Management™, the world’s most comprehensive Leadership Operating System. He also helps companies raise capital to fund growth. He is also the Founder of The CEO Boot Camp™ and Entrepreneurship Universityfor early-stage companies that have not reached product-market fit and $1M ARR.

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