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Why second best never works in a start-up

I often talk about Steve Jobs and the culture in the early days at Apple. I remember one lady and her quite animated reaction to my topic of choice...

“Do you know Steve Jobs was a horrible man to work with and for!?”, she asked me. “He was ruthless, domineering and too focused on the company dream and not his team.”, she went on. In short, she was advocating that entrepreneurs, like Jobs, are being immortalised as heroes, while in fact they were pretty difficult people to manage or work for.

This made me think about the entrepreneurial mindset. It’s a subject I’m fascinated with and, as an entrepreneur myself, struggle with all the time. It made me think about three entrepreneurs from now big name start-ups I have recently listened to – YoSushi, Toni & Guy and King of Shaves.

When entrepreneurs start out, they only have themselves…..if they are lucky they have a Co-Founder. Jobs was lucky!

Mindset Alert:  Entrepreneurs are always on!!!

Building a business like Toni and Guy or YoSushi doesn’t happen overnight… it takes years. Years of disrupted sleep patterns, massive persistence and frustration at people who act like ducks. But, to the non-entrepreneur, who sees massive progress in the business, the entrepreneur looks dissatisfied and unhappy with the results. Let’s compare this to… the hamster. The hamster at night will burrow, burrow and burrow… move food around and dig deeper. In essence, the hamster could take over half the night off as it will have accomplished what it needs to do pretty quickly. But, it is not satisfied with enough, it wants to dig deeper and do more – never settling. This is the same as the entrepreneur – not until the painpoint is fully solved and the vision delivered will they rest. However, this can manifest into frustration; impatience; minimal tolerance for ifs, buts and maybes; and a dislike of those who actively get in their way.

Jobs knew that his behaviours did at times cause stress and angst to others, both inside and outside his company, but, he was not willing to settle for second best. As I listened to the CEO of Yo, he was clear on the starting point being a bar set way up high. This was because, in his eyes, this is where the other entrepreneurs were starting and where he therefore had to compete on excellence.

As entrepreneurs, we cannot settle for ‘okay’. This is average and it does not result in building businesses of scale and, ultimately, can kill a start-up within the first two years.

Maybe a bad example, but as Gordon Gekko said in the movie Wall Street, “It’s not always the most popular guy that gets the job done.” The entrepreneur is fierce in getting things over the line and has to live with the ambiguity and complexity of this day in day out.

I guess, in summary, as I look at my own entrepreneurial journey and that of many I work with – at start-up, pre-scale and scale-up – ‘ok’ and ‘average’ in anything causes great frustration and we will do anything to get it changed, working and improved. Sometimes that means tough words, harsh language and raised voices… or simply getting out a bad situation.

I am no Steve Jobs, but I kinda get why he had a low tolerance for okay…

If you liked this blog you might like this one on, ‘Meaningful Conversations are a Must for Success’ check it out here and let me know what you think @GoDo_Today.