(or On the Founder-Idea Obsession)
There have been a handful of times, less than 20 across my entire life, where I’ve been obsessed with an idea. Yes, unhealthily obsessed. So obsessed I have temporarily neglected other obligations including my own health. Obsessed where I steal every possible moment to slip into the obsession. I’ve regularly postponed client work to practice my kubb game and regularly stayed up until 2am debugging handwritten XML for a new podcast episode. I’m never shy about them. To a great degree this blog is a timeline of so many of these obsessions. It’s highly likely if you’ve known me for any amount of time – you could accurately list off a handful of those 20.
At the beginning, all business founders have one foot in the new world of unknown promise and one foot in the old world (e.g. day job). It’s an uncomfortable, unsustainable tension.
The pull of the known and the comfortable in the old world is persistent. The fear of doing a poor job and disappointing those around you may even begin to haunt you.
The new thing, surprisingly doesn’t care if you work on it or not. No one else is there to hold you accountable for making progress. Nor should they, it’s not their job.
Now, factor in The Resistance and the easiest answer is to just not work on the new thing.
And so many potential founders don’t.
This is why, in my work with startup founders, I listen for obsession. I listen for how obsessed they are with their idea, how obsessed they are with their new world, how uncontainable their enthusiasm for it is. I listen for how they’ve stolen moments throughout the day to make just one tiny bit of progress.
And I compare that against how many times they say, “I couldn’t find the time.”
Founders and early stage business ideas are not a fungible combination.
On day zero, the founder is implicitly making a decade-long commitment (if the business is wildly successful). To persist through this commitment, progress needs to come from deep inside their bones, needs to illuminate them from the inside. This light needs to seep through every crack of their being and their calendar.
Or our work together will be helping them find a different idea.
Or they remain in the old world.