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Summary:

A great startup founder is a heady blend of The Rock, Woody Allen and Winston Churchill — and Harry Potter. But somewhere along the way, many founders develop what I call founderitis. To figure out if you have it, I’ve compiled a list of symptoms.

Thanks to my recent travels, which took me from San Francisco to Munich to LA and back again — all in less than a week — I got to thinking about the past four years. It’s been nearly that long since I first started working on GigaOM, the business, and thus crossed over to becoming a founder.

The role of a startup founder is a pretty unique. A great startup founder is a heady blend of The Rock, Woody Allen and Winston Churchill — and Harry Potter. In other words, a fearless, neurotic creative, and a stubborn visionary — one that believes in the power of magic. It also requires an entirely different level of obsessiveness, which can lead you to greatness or the grave. But somewhere along the way, many founders develop what I call founderitis.

Founderitis is a side effect of being a startup guy. Using my own experiences, talking to a handful of my close founder friends and channeling knowledge acquired after years of writing about entrepreneurs, I have come up with a list of signs that you might be suffering from founderitis. If you’re exhibiting three or more of them, perhaps it’s time for you to dial it back a bit — even for a brief period of, say, 24 hours.

1. You mistake insomnia for work ethic.
2. You are constantly looking to add hot new features to your products such as Tweet This & Facebook Connect.
3. You obsess over features/details over which you have no control.
4. You have the constant urge to do everything.
5. You have attention deficit disorder, in that you’re constantly checking Twitter/Facebook/Google Reader and have set up Google Alerts to monitor what people are saying about you and your company — when you should be actually working.
6. Your idea of dining out is picking up take-out food rather than having it delivered.
7. In moments of great weakness, you regret not just starting a virtual farm application and selling virtual goods via cell phones.
8. Your favorite “vacation” over the past year consisted of going to a conference for 72 hours.
9. The last time you cried was last night.
10. You mistake half a dozen T-shirts with company logos for your wardrobe.
11. When people ask how your day went, you tell them it’s only half over.
12. You have more gray hair than equity.

Here is a bonus symptom from my friend Aaron Levie of Box.net.

Because your startup has 70 people, you begin to think you’d do a better job than Obama. And you’ve begun regularly saying things like, “Please don’t come to that meeting without a chartered project plan.”

If you have any more additions to this list, please feel free to add them in the comments.

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  1. Om, you can hire more people to do some of that stuff for you. Death by stress is probably one of the worst way to go.

    1. So I went close enough to the edge and came back. I am now just sharing some of those tips with others :-)

  2. Rohit Nallapeta Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Its a fun true post…

  3. Om, #5 applies to WAY too many of us (founder or otherwise). A scene from “The Matrix” sums it up:

    TANK
    Hey, Mikey, he likes it! Ready for more?

    NEO
    Hell yes!

    All too true…

  4. I am definitely infected with this

  5. Fantastic post! by the #3 I was giggling.. by #7 I realized it’s true. I do need a virtual farm!

  6. Om – can you separate the parts where you are motivated by joy from those where you are motivated by fear? If so, how many of those parts can you throw from the second bucket into the first?

    Yeah, it sounds like pop psych babble, but it helps set perspective every so often.

    1. I am not sure people can make that distinction. I have made decisions in the past where anxietywas the overriding missed. These days I have rationality and quality as main drivers. I have had to learn this the hard way.

  7. Article Playground Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    The Rock Dwayne Johnson is good peoples. Like him very much as a person and as an actor :-)

  8. Hilarious – glad there are people to relate with. will be back to add to the list when I can focus in that direction.

    1. I see you are busy getting distracted :-) It is all good.

  9. all too tue. but as long as your startup doesnt monetize where you can finally leave it in the hands of trusted aides, I guess the founderitis wont go away

  10. Very cool. No 4) is a constant trap for first time founders and even for repeat founders.

    To add to the list: You start treating company like your baby – no one can call it ugly but me (true or not), Can’t leave it even if you have reached a point of no return and so on.

    1. I think the #4 is the worst symptom of all as it causes massive problems for the company. I think we all have been there at some point or the other — though overcoming it is not easy.

      On your suggestion — well that indeed is true. I think the line between self critical and self delusional is pretty invisible.

      1. agree completely. soon enough if you are not very careful you will be surrounded by people who will be more than happy to serve you your bathwater.

        ========you should encourage the people around you who have the courage/conviction to point out areas for improvement=======================

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