The Secret Entrepreneur: Drowning puppies

Ideas for entrepreneurs often come as easily as water from a tap. So why’s killing them in their infancy so hard?

There are two primary reasons why I became an entrepreneur. The first was to be the master of my own destiny, the second was so that I could create something.

Developing a business from nothing is exhilarating; your idea takes form and becomes something tangible. When you’ve done it once you want to do it again and again. The ideas start to flow and you want to do as much as you can. Once you have a team in place it seems so much easier to execute on everything. For a while.

This is where things can start to become unstuck. It’s all too easy to become obsessed with new ideas and keep pushing new things through before there’s been time to execute properly on your last great idea.

It’s a great way to really annoy the people who work with you. They’ve just got their head around your last idea and worked out how to execute it when you come up with your next one.

Having these ideas, filtering them and executing on the best ones is crucial to long term success as an entrepreneur, but learning how to keep things under control and move through things at a reasonable pace is essential. Otherwise key staff (and you) can burn out.

I’ve developed a process to reign in my desire to juggle a thousand projects at once, and to stop me from driving my team insane.

Firstly, I stopped running weekly idea sessions with my team. It sets an unreasonable pace, especially once you’ve got an established product with its own momentum. I encourage people to innovate, but if it’s not something they can do with their own resources then they can submit their ideas to me.

I write every idea down – whether they come from me, or someone else – in the notebook I always carry. I get through a lot of these. If an idea keeps coming back to me I go over it and try to flesh out as much detail as possible before informally discussing it with someone else in my team. If it still seems like a good idea I move it to a ‘holding’ pile and then wait for a suitable opportunity to introduce it to those whose assistance I need to get it done.

Rather than just asking (which, as the boss, is really just telling) my team to do it, I try to sell them on the idea, so that they’re fully engaged. If I find it’s a tough sell, I’ll usually go back and rethink things.

Once a pet project starts to progress, I make sure we’ve got markers in place so we can measure whether it’s working out or not. This is where things can really get difficult though.

I’m usually quite partial to these ideas (especially if they were mine) and want to make sure they’re a success. The hard part is knowing when to accept that it’s just not going to work out, and then making the decision to drown the puppy (that’s what it feels like sometimes).

This can be when a project is very far progressed – even out there and making revenue – which makes it even harder as it becomes a public thing. I had to do this recently with a project I’d sunk the best part of six months and a quarter of a million pounds in to. It started as a good idea, but the market changed and long term it was going to be a liability, so strategically, it had to go.

Actually, the hardest part of this wasn’t drowning the puppy, it was telling the kids who’d raised it what I was going to do. Informing the team that had toiled to make it a reality that the project was no longer viable was tough, but necessary. It may have even made a few cry. I’m sure it’ll make them stronger in the end though.

Read previous Secret Entrepreneur columns here on Startups.co.uk.

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