Founder's Trap

The Founder’s Trap – Perhaps the Hardest to Overcome

Once you have successfully managed to get through the honeymoon trap you had to navigate through the uneasy waters of a startup.  You didn’t give up, and so you persevered through the “Three Feet from Gold” trap.  Now you are finally having success.  Your business is growing.  You are hiring staff.  But beware, ahead lies the Founder’s Trap (aka the “Entrepreneur’s Trap” – perhaps the hardest to overcome.

The entrepreneur’s trap is one encountered by virtually every business that experiences a measure of success.   While some do not ever experience the first two traps, this one is almost impossible to avoid.  But to understand why, we first need to understand the trap.

The Founder’s Trap

In her book by the same name, author Tina Forsyth explains the problem of the “The Entrepreneur’s Trap”:

I see too many entrepreneurs working way too hard. Working evenings and weekends, never taking time off or having a real vacation….Their operations, systems and team – all essential for their growth – are either lacking or just patched together… which leaves them in a place of chaos and overwhelm. They are trying to hold it all together at the expense of their time, their energy and in many cases their family.

Readers of the E-Myth Revisited are also familiar with this concept.   The E-Myth principle (“the Entrepreneur Myth”) is based on the idea that most businesses are formed by people who are good at a specific skill or have a specific interest and thus build a business around it.  These “technicians” as they are called, do not know how to run a business, and thus the business is doomed to failure.

The Three Eyes of the Entrepreneur

At FocalPoint we talk about the “three eyes of the entrepreneur”.  We review this concept with our clients so they can understand how each of these roles impacts their business and are a big factor in their day-to-day stress level.  The three eyes are:

  1. The visionary eye – This eye is constantly looking forward.  This is the big idea person.  The entrepreneur is a visionary, dreamer and innovator. This forward-thinking view is critical for an entrepreneurial effort to succeed.
  2. The manager eye – This eye focuses on the business.  This eye is often looking backward instead of forward.  They focus on whether the business is operating successfully.  They live in the past and the present, but do not think about the future.  In this role, the leader loves consistency and avoids change and creativity at all costs.
  3. The technician eye – This is often the role that led the entrepreneur to start the business in the first place.  This is the “doer” in all of us.  He lives very much in the present and is overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done NOW.

When I work with clients who are at this stage, I help them understand the difference in each of these roles.  It’s important to understand that each role is vitally important to a successful organization.  The question is whether the role is best suited for the business owner, or should it be delegated to other team members.

Where are you on the Sigmoid Curve?

The Sigmoid Curve, also known as “the business lifecycle”, is an important concept for every business owner to understand.  After you have weathered the storm of the startup phase, you are now in the “growth phase” of your business.  Each business is different, but hopefully, you live in the growth phase for a very long, extended period of time.

But early on in the growth phase, every entrepreneur must come face-to-face with this trap.  There are many indications that this trap is either imminent or perhaps you are already in the thick of it.  Here are a few:

  • Every decision must be made by the founder, and I mean “every decision”.
  • The founder finds himself working harder than everyone else, and often the only one worried about the business after 5 PM.
  • Achieving growth only happens through the direct actions of the founder.
  • No one understands how everything fits together in the organization.
  • There is essentially no delegation or at least no delegation of items requiring authority.

Overcoming the Founder’s Trap

So, you want to overcome, or completely avoid the founder’s trap.  Do you?  I mean, really, …   do you?  This is the first question you must answer.  I find most entrepreneurs hate the idea of not being involved with every aspect of their business.  The business is their baby.  No one knows it like them.  How can he possibly delegate anything of importance?

Therefore, first, you must look clearly in the mirror and pledge that you want to move past this trap.  Until you do, it will never happen.

Once you have decided you want to overcome this limitation and take your business to great heights, here are a few things you should start doing:

  • Delegate – Start with the simple things.  Do you still run payroll?  Do you approve timesheets?  Find areas of the business that you can delegate or outsource.
  • Develop your leadership team – Do you have a leadership team?  If so, do you involve them in the decision making processes?  If not, start there.  You don’t have a team?  Start to develop one.  Maybe you need to bring on some part-time leadership in the form of a consultant or coach.
  • Train your team – Identify those aspects of the business that only you understand and develop a training program for sharing that knowledge with the team.
  • Take a vacation – What’s that?  How can you possibly take a vacation?  Okay, maybe just a “staycation”.  But find a way of “checking out” of the business for a few days, or better yet, a whole week.  If that seems like a pipe dream to you then start putting things into place so you can.  I once had a CEO that had trouble doing this.  He finally went on a cruise so it forced him to disengage (this was back when it was virtually impossible to communicate to the mainland from a cruise ship).

Hire a Business Coach

And finally, hire a business coach. But before you do, talk to them and see if they have walked a mile in your shoes.  If a business coach hasn’t worked through these issues in their own life, they probably can’t help you much with yours.

I’d love to talk to you about how I worked through these issues.  I’ve got some great tools to help you.  Contact me today.