12+1 Signs That You Have Founderitis

47 Comments

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.

47 Comments

Divesh

This is a great post. One question: is the amount of weakness in the moment that you wish you sold virtual goods by cell phone inversely proportional to the level of founderitis?

Wendy Lerman

Om, I am Howard Lerman’s wife and I’m very sorry to embarrass him in front of his friends, but he’s suffering from chronic founderitis. Please DM me @shoppingdiary with suggested remedy.

Ondrej

You’re tough Om! I wouldn’t admit half of this to my closest friend. And you have the courage to tell the world. Wow, hat’s off sir! I don’t drink anymore, but somehow I felt sudden urge to tell you that I’d love to have a beer with you, if we ever met.

P.S. Speaking of farms, a friend of mine actually bought me a voucher to try to be a shepherd for one day :-)

Rahul Sood

This is hilarious. Specially the insomnia point. I remember my days when 2-3 hour sleeps were the norm. I would add another point to it – constantly looking to network and promote the brand when one should be working.

Om Malik

Howard — time to pay attention to what the MRS has to say :-) I think she is sending a strong message. Take a little break :-)

Natalie Hodge MD FAAP

Funny, thanks, we needed a breather about now… nice to put life and your business all in perspective. What if you don’t immediately take over the world with your “virtual office” for primary care doctors? Well, I supppose you could go home and have lunch with your husband for an hour, right? and that’s what I’m going to do now…

Best to all,
Natalie Hodge MD FAAP
Personal Medicine
“Your Doctor Comes to You”

Braydon Johnson-McCormick

I’ll add another sadder item:

When your spouse (insert: significant other, child, friend) says: “I miss you” but you spend more time at home than anyone you know and actually see them all the time.

David Hauser

What a great post and many of these things will ring true with fellow entrepreneurs. I do not agree with “9. The last time you cried was last night.” and “12. You have more gray hair than equity.”

  1. The last time you cried was last night.
    While entrepreneurship is a roller coaster and will always have ups and downs I do not find a lot of entrepreneurs crying about this. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones that push through this to the upside of the roller coaster.

  2. You have more gray hair than equity.
    This is either a West Coast or VC thing. There are more founders and entrepreneurs that do not have VC funding than do so the equity question is not as big and there are tons of young founders so not sure about the gray hair part. Maybe it would be better to say, more stress than wealth.

Nick O'Neill

Great post Om! I find that I’m infected with this disease on a regular basis … it’s key to step back once in a while!

Mark Essel

This post made my day, and it’s only just begun. The ADD thing I can see as bad, but it doesn’t cut into real development time. When I’m not mentally 100% it’s safer for the software if I take care of other responsibilities.

Still can’t decide if you are praising or damning founderitis, some of those signs sound like competitive advantages ;)

Thanks Om, superb post.

Om Malik

I think we confuse what we think are advantages with reality. I think the point is to know when to kind shake your head and get a little reality check.

Jürgen Messing

Two bonus signs:
1. When reading texts you see everywhere words ending on .sh (which actually is not the case).
2. You think that the GigaOM proposal of ‘dialing back a bit’ is crap.

R. Paul Singh

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.

Om Malik

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.

anon

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=======================

param

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

ubiq

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

Paul

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.

Om Malik

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.

Ed

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…

Kevin

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.

Om Malik

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

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