It’s ridiculous to think that anyone will ever be as committed to a startup as the Founder.
And yet, we’re constantly beating ourselves up trying to find just the right combination of great hires, strong incentives, and attractive growth to convert all of this raw talent into the committed, startup-building machine that we’ve become.
But it’s 3 a.m. and we’re sitting in bed staring at the ceiling completely engrossed in nothing but the future of this startup. Why isn’t everyone else? Is there some sort of magic formula that would convince the rest of the staff to also be sitting in bed staring at the ceiling? (In this scenario we’re assuming we’d want people to do that…)
It’s time we realize, as Founders, that expecting the same level of commitment from our staff, or worse yet, replacing ourselves with someone else who can achieve the same commitment is a bit of a fool’s errand. Yes, people have figured it out, but here’s why it breaks 99% of the time.
We Work Out of Fear, Not Just Upside
We sometimes think that because there’s a ton of upside at our startup, that our interests are aligned. We figure that everyone has “life-changing stock” (or the cash upside equivalent) and that alone should give us all the incentive that we need.
But what’s keeping us up at night and working on weekends isn’t incentive — it’s fear.
As Founders, we don’t just have an upside — we have a metric ton of downside. If one of our employees doesn’t work hard, they might get fired. That’s as bad as it can get — they’d have to get another job. But if we drop the ball, everyone gets fired. If we botch this up, investors and creditors come looking for us, not them. Generally speaking, Founders don’t “quit” their jobs, they lose their whole company. And that’s the kind of motivational fear that puts us in a category of motivation all our own.
Our Dreams Aren’t Their Dreams
It’s not just fear that motivates us, it’s also the attachment we have to have birthed our dreams. We had this silly idea that became a thing – and we brought it into this world. Lots of other people had a huge hand in making it real, but the difference is, for many of them, it’s just not their dream.
Part of that dream (especially what we’ve pitched) may be the upside in realizing our dream, but it’s not the same as the deep satisfaction that comes from taking something we created from nothing and making it real.
Sometimes our team will adopt our dreams and become surrogate parents of them – and that’s awesome. But it’s very rare that a dream has the ability to create an inception-level moment that feels as powerful to anyone else as it does for us. And for that reason — we’re willing to go an extra length to create a conclusion of that dream that not everyone else needs to validate. It’s just not theirs… and that’s OK.
Our Commitment is a Superpower
Instead of beating ourselves up over why we can’t seem to get everyone else to drink the Kool-Aid the way we do, we should instead step back and think of our “commitment” as a superpower. It’s the reason so many startups and large companies lose their soul when the Founder leaves (Apple, Apple, and Apple anyone?).
Our commitment is a driving force whose power allows us to do superhuman things that others just will not.
Instead of trying to project our commitment onto other people, we should be thinking about our commitment as a special contribution that we get to make. We shouldn’t fault others for not sharing that commitment, any less than we should fault our babysitter for not caring about our kids like we do. Instead, we should be proud of our commitment and wield it for the powers of good.
With great commitment comes great responsibility.