Founder’s Block – Symptoms and Treatments

I’m going to write about an often un-discussed condition in the start-up world called “Founder’s Block.” The idea is that the entrepreneur or start-up junkie reaches a point where they can’t get enthusiastic enough about their next idea to leave their current job or dedicate their full efforts. Having spent the better part of the last few months looking at hundreds of business plans and looking at opportunities for myself, I’m acutely aware of the condition. It often feels as though it’s impossible to fall in love with another venture. If you’ve had a “win,” you may feel enormous pressure to repeat or build an even bigger success. If your last venture didn’t generate a return, you may feel like you’re in a win or go home situation. All of these can contribute to Founder’s Block syndrome.

If you’re pressured, you’re likely to make a bad decision

Making quick decisions generally leads to bad decisions. A good friend and successful entrepreneur told me that it took him 2 years to find his next venture (which will be another hit I’m certain). While part of the start-up decision hinges on instinct and conviction, emotional factors like insecurity or financial pressure can often force one’s hand. This is hard because we rarely have the luxury of taking our sweet time. However, my experience is that the less pressure one feels in the germination process, the more likely the venture will start off on a good foot. Much like sports, the more relaxed you are, the better you play (no reference to Tiger Woods intended). 

Don’t be afraid to kill ideas – Sunk costs are just that

My colleague David Frankel at Founder Collective talks about "going up the hill, down the hill and back up again." His premise is that the process of evaluating opportunities is a bit of a roller coaster, whether as investor or entrepreneur. You might get excited about an opportunity immediately upon hearing the pitch or coming up with the idea in the shower. Over time, though, through diligence, the excitement wanes as competitors and other failed attempts come into view.  All entrepreneurs have some level of doubt throughout, but the challenge is to develop a clear, validated perspective on how you might be able to overcome those doubts. If you cannot seem to overcome the challenges, don’t be afraid to kill it no matter how much time/money has been invested. If you can get back up the hill, that’s generally a good sign.

Sounding boards – experts, entrepreneurs, VCs and uncle Larry

I think the best way to vet your idea is to share it, almost constantly. Find experts who have deep knowledge in the area. Take notes on everything they say – you’ll re-read it 100 times. Over the years, I’ve kept a small group of trusted entrepreneurs to serve as objective sounding boards for whatever crazy notion I’ve got.  As an aside, I actually think we need more entrepreneur-organized sessions where entrepreneurs can freely brainstorm without feeling scrutiny or risk. VCs can also be valuable, but I’d be wary to go to a VC too many times with a half-baked idea. Instead, VCs can be great sources of contacts (for the experts mentioned above) once you’ve zeroed in on a particular market space. Of course, don’t forget your uncle Larry. The lowest risk way to gut check your idea is friends and family – if they laugh at you, who cares, they’re family?!

7 thoughts on “Founder’s Block – Symptoms and Treatments

  1. My move is to start with a huge topic and then based on research, narrow a focus to a specific under that huge topic. Then research who’s in that field, what they’re doing, who failed and why. Gaps should start to emerge. Then figure out, based on resources you know you can get (human and capital) and figure out what it is that you can actually do. If it’s tech, I always say be or find an engineer and work out a prototype before working on a business model because I always feel a business model merges from the tech (but at the same time, don’t build tech aimlessly without thinking about business). Over the course of this process, what you want to do sort of emerges and, in my case, passion because of that discovery also emerges.

  2. Good Post, Micah. I believe the right time to start a company is when you feel that the risk of not executing on an idea exceeds the risk of doing so.

  3. Right on. I’m going through this right now where I’ve had a "win" and now I feel incredible pressure to repeat. Have gone up and down the hill a few times, good analogy.

  4. Good post Micah, I especially agree with the idea of share often and frequently. Where that idea starts to break down for me is keeping the circle of people to use as a sounding board fresh. Sometimes I feel like I already know what the people I am taking a new idea to will say before I talk to them. I think its important to keep that core group of people whos advice you trust but its equally important to find that variable group for the added fresh prospective.Perhaps we need the "MJ Hot or Not" idea conference 2010 in Vegas. Just a thought. 🙂

  5. My first comment was more about how to plow through Founder’s Block. I will say that the best way I’ve found to bounce ideas is talking to your old crew. If you had a success, there were probably 4 or 5 early employees/customers/investors. You trusted them early on ‘last time’ so trust them again.

  6. MIcah,First time reading you, and it was a pleasure. I have subscribed and looking forward to more.I am in nearly the same boat as Charles, just coming off a 10 year long win, I am caught in this place, and I wonder what your thoughts are….one shoulder is saying "Get out there and start one of your next ideas", the other shoulder is saying "Get a steady job and start saving for a family".Making the decision even more difficult, I am also not quite sure what type of company needs my jack-of-all trades, entrepreneurial spirit and love of all things tech.Perplexed,Mike

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