Startup Killer #1: Hype-Driven Everything

I think a natural side effect of being a leader is also being a voracious information consumer. Leaders are readers. We attend conferences, listen to countless podcasts, subscribe to tens (hundreds!) of blogs, and are constantly in conversations with other people we respect. We analyze trends in the industry, both the industries that our startups serve, and the industry of technology companies itself. But if you’re anything like me, you’re both guilty of it…and you recognize that there’s a significant problem with this approach.

If we’re not careful, then every new article, every new post can become a new wind that blows against the sails of your startup. The latest and greatest items found in industry trends become the enemy of the startup’s number one priority: focused execution. All of a sudden, you begin shoving “technologies” into your stack even when they don’t belong. You begin adding marketing strategies based on the blog posts of some brilliant marketer living in Portland, Oregon who works remotely for some big shot agency with a name that would double for a consignment shop. You introduce new concepts to your leadership team that you’ve read from a Forbes article about (insert tech leader here).

And all of a sudden, you’re an iced tea company with Bitcoin in your name.

From a design & technology perspective, just think of the trends that have come and gone. Rounded edges. Gradients. Countless Javascript libraries (remember mootools? script.aculo.us? prototype?). There are a lot of examples there. But the same is true even on the business side: trends exist, and they often cause us to introduce new things to our groups when it’s simply not necessary….and most often it’s a distraction from the things that do matter.

This introduction of new items is only the misdemeanor-level crime that can be committed here. Worse yet, you begin changing strategies, technologies, or company culture, ripping out things that are unique to your company that have grown from within and proven themselves worthy of keeping for at least a season. Within a short period of time, for very little reason, you’ve now given at least a particular group within your startup organizational whiplash, if not the entire team. All because you consumed the latest book. The latest magazine article. The latest blog post. The latest podcast episode. And are seeking to ride a wave.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, all of this is usually done to impress some third party (investors, the press, friends/family) that doesn’t directly impact the bottom line of the company.

Now. What I’m not saying is that these third parties don’t matter at all. Of course they do. I’m also not saying that we as leaders shouldn’t pay attention to trends in our industry. Or what’s happening in tech in general. Or that we should cease consuming external information in general. I’m saying avoid the hype. This hype-driven everything model of leading is simply unhealthy.

The number one way to avoid the hype? Have a clear, concise mission & vision for your company…and your own life as a leader. Write it down. One that’s fairly stable. One where a sudden swing in trendiness won’t cause doubt. Then, weigh every new trend against that mission & vision. Seems simple. But it’s not. Because some trends will seem like no-brainers at the time, but will only falter with time.

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