Beware the Startup ADD Trap

by | Jan 5, 2018

Discovering and executing on your Scaling Point is a necessary requirement for growing a little company into a big one. But why is it so rare?

There are two reasons why Startup ADD is an almost universal disease that is very hard to cure.

First, starting up requires ADD to get going. You need to try many things to see what works and what doesn’t. You just don’t know until you try, so ADD experimentation is the name of the game when you are starting.

Second, survival is a requirement of a startup or small business that is trying to grow. You need to sell to customers, generate cash, make payroll and fund your product development and customer acquisition. There is no choice. The business needs to survive long enough to find out what really works.

Survival is really, really hard for startups and early-stage companies–even for funded companies. Most people (including startup employees) have no idea how close to the edge of failure most startups and early-stage small businesses are running.

There are almost no companies that have “too much funding” in the early Startup ADD phase of growth and don’t have to worry about survival. Investors aren’t funding startup ADD experiments anymore because most of these early experiments don’t succeed and create growth.

It’s a treacherous time for every entrepreneur. Your company can die if you don’t keep it going any way you can.

In survival mode, you are trained to say “Yes” to everything that might keep the business going and growing.

  • Yes to any customer that will buy.
  • Yes to the new product features and services that can close a deal.
  • Yes to any partner that will help you.
  • Yes to any investor that will fund you.
  • Yes to all the sales and marketing tactics that could help you grow.

Pretty soon you get used to saying Yes and doing more of everything. It pays the bills and it got you this far so it must be how you keep growing, you tell yourself.

This isn’t a criticism of Startup ADD and scrappy execution. In fact, this is to your credit. You got your business going and it’s working at some level. Most don’t make it that far. Most startup ideas don’t turn into startup businesses with revenue and employees. And most startup businesses don’t grow up to be big businesses.

The challenge for “crazy” big-thinking entrepreneurs is that you need to transition from Startup ADD to Scale-up OCD to keep growing (and get serious funding).

You need to stop being many things to many people and find a worthy focus that you can scale. Transitioning out of early startup ADD is the real challenge. This is the Startup ADD Trap. Not doing the hard work to transition from Startup ADD will stall your growth and it can kill your company.

At some point, you need to stop saying Yes to everything that could generate revenue and star saying No to things that are not in your focus.

You need to survive long enough to find your Scaling Point, then transition and bet everything on it–to the exclusion of everything you could do to survive.

This is the brutal reality for all startups and small businesses that want to scale up and become valuable market-leading companies.

Survival is the game when you are starting up, but Startup ADD doesn’t scale.

There are no scaled-up market leaders that are still in Startup ADD mode.

They all have laser focus and are known as the best in their market doing something important for someone specific. They don’t say Yes to every customer, every opportunity, every Go-To-Market tactic.

They say No to most of the things they could do so they can do more of the things that work best.

They also survived long enough in Startup ADD mode to find their Scaling Point.