In the movie Jaws, the character Quint has an amazing monologue where he describes how his ship had just delivered a nuclear bomb (that would be used on Hiroshima) only to be torpedoed by Japanese submarines. The ship sank quickly, and eleven hundred men were stranded in the water. And then…the sharks came. Quint goes on to describe how the men formed tight groups in the water to fight off the sharks, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
Near the end of the story, Quint says, “I’ll never put on a lifejacket again.”
A couple weeks ago, in a post titled, Living on Loyalty, Trust and Big Ideas, I talked about lifejackets too, although not in so many words. Time to clarify a bit…
“Startup teams can’t succeed without immense amounts of loyalty, trust and faith in big ideas.”
Mat Balez questioned my point about “faith in big ideas”:
“I’m 100% with you on the first two: trust and loyalty – I’m not sure about the big ideas part. Who doesn’t have big ideas? I’d swap that for “unbelievable execution”, because ultimately that’s more important.”
There’s no doubt that execution is critical. You can’t have a successful startup without execution, regardless of the idea. It’s why copycat companies can still succeed by executing better and faster than their predecessors.
But for a startup to succeed each and every team member has to be a believer.
Otherwise, it won’t get off the ground. Let’s hope the founders are believers (if not, you might as well jump off the ship now), but when hiring employees, it’s essential that they get 100% on board. There are lots of reasons why you might want to work at a startup, but the most important one is this: You believe in the startup’s idea.
Startups don’t have lifejackets. There’s nowhere to hide in a startup, and if you’re not sold on what the startup is doing, you’ll drown…and take everyone else with you.
When faced with employees who are secretly trying to blow up dinghies underneath their desks, you have two choices:
- Work with them and convince them to buy-in and put everything they’ve got behind the project; or,
- Let them go.
Firing startup employees is very hard. With a small team it can have a big impact seeing someone let go. Even if it’s the right move, it will prove shocking and disconcerting to those remaining.
But, it can prove equally frustrating (and much, much worse) if the impassionate employee stays. Try and resolve the situation; talk to the employee in question, figure out what’s wrong, offer solutions…just be ready to get out the plank.
In a startup, each and every team member is essential to the startup’s success. Startup teams are simply too small for people not to carry their full weight. And so there can be no lifejackets. No lifelines, no hedging one’s bets. You’ve gotta believe. Big idea, small idea, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that everyone believes in the startup’s chances of success – and more than that – they’ve foregone their lifejacket in order to make it happen.
As for Jaws…I’ve seen it numerous times and it doesn’t get any less frightening. As a result, I haven’t gotten into the shower since Friday night. So I’m preemptively apologizing to the guys at the office: Sorry guys!
photo by LucyInTheSkyWithDiamonds