In Startup Management

Hear, See and Speak No Evil. A traditional take on confidentiality?

Startup teams often feel like they are bouncing straight from one problem, difficulty, crisis or challenge to the next.  There is often an illusion that the “end of all these problems” will be just around the corner, but the reality is that most startups exist in a permanent state of crisis.  The hope is that over time the proportion of “good problems” will increase, and it is very important that as they do, you communicate the “good” more than the “problem”…

While the founders and management of a startup will have some understanding of the difference between good problems and bad, it may not be so obvious to others.  This includes the rest of the team, investors, supporters and other people in their network.

Some commonly faced problems in the bad category might be

  • No customers
  • Running out of money
  • Discovery of new technical obstacles
  • Departure of key staff
  • Loss of support from investors

It’s pretty hard to spin problems like that in a positive way.

However, there are also good problems

  • Coping with complicated legal agreements with customers
  • Scaling up fast enough to support customer demand
  • Dealing with customers who want exclusivity on your product or service

Although both types of problem can cause massive stress and frenzied activity for founders and management, those further from the action may well not be able to tell whether a particular bout of stress and frenzy is caused by a good problem or a bad one.

This makes it really important to communicate to staff, investors and others others the “good” aspect of your problems, as well as the challenges.  For the examples above…

  • we have a customer deal on the table
  • lots of customers want our product
  • our customers love our product so much they don’t want anyone else to have it

Changing the way you talk about a problem doesn’t change the fact that there are difficult issues to resolve in all of these, but it does help others to understand that they aren’t watching the death of the business!

I’m off to continue working on some of those good problems…

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  • […] which we’ll keep in mind for future blogs!  The blog posts I refer people to most often are Do the problems ever end?, Investors, Magic and Mythical Creatures and Cash is like the air we […]

  • […] tend to experience a succession of crises – a subject I’ve already written about in Do the Problems Ever End?  It is extremely tempting for a startup team to direct most, if not all, of its energy into […]

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