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The Founder's Lie About Comfort Zones (klinger.io)
122 points by andreasklinger 1699 days ago | hide | past | web | 25 comments | favorite

Guys - OP here.

I know the article sounds like blunt rant but it's a topic very dear to me as i regularly mentor startups. Many of them hide in the mentioned patterns.

If you know good articles / links on how to prioritise your work and assess missing skills in your founding team please be so kind and share them here. I will add them to the article afterwards.


Very accurate points, in my opinion. The money quote: "In general whenever a X-guy enforces solving a problem with X everyone should step back and try to analyse it objectively".

All three of us at tldr.io are coders, so we indeed jumped in the code and built (what we thought was) a great product. We thought the product would be viral, and of course it wasn't. So now we are in a two weeks long "no code" period, and this forces us to go outside of our comfort zone.

If your theory is correct, and I think it is, you can easily assess someones skillset by talking to someone, and finding out what they (are) like (if you need a book for that I can recommend "how to talk to anyone").

If you know which skills are needed for the founding team, the missing skills are simply the difference between the two.

I think finding out which skills are needed might not be very trivial. They need to be close to the core directive of the startup, all the other required skills can be filled by employees. (as in, if your startup is highly technical the founders could be 2 engineers, as long as the first two employees are a CEO and a marketer)

I love the article btw, nice and direct. Hopefully someone in the comments disagrees completely :)

When I was reading this article, I thought "that's why startups need mentors".

I should have guessed you are one :)

I'll definitely get a mentor when I get started (fortunately there are several mentoring program over here in Uruguay), some are global programs like Endeavor and other are sponsored by the local chambers.

Hey, I like your article! I do feel like you're highlighting things that are just generally true of human nature. People tend to delude themselves about their intentions, are unrealistic about their stated goals, etc.

I think the article starts great, "people will fill their time with what they love to do if you let them", but does not provide a solution.

In general the work of a manager is precisely that, find the people that will love to do what is required(know about people), understand what is required(know about the needs of people and your customers) and remove all the blocks they could find doing it(know about execution).

Not as easy at it sounds, they are also "naturals" at it.

Doing 90% of your best time in live before dying something you can't be great at because you don't appreciate it is not sustainable in the middle and long term.

Yes definitely. Absolutely agree.

I tried to focus on that by explaining that founders tend to think of themselves as executors while they are at the same time managers (of themselves)

Ad "solution": As you said - i don't really provide many of them - if you got good links to recommend please post them - i will add them!

Ad "naturals": I am unsure if managers are born or trained. I know a lot of people who grew in that role.

You don't need to be a founder to lie to yourself about this. I manage a not-for-profit and I've found it very easy to hide amongst the work I'm naturally gifted for (figures, bookwork, projections) instead of dealing with the stuff that really needs doing AND that I need to be the one to do (refining processes, setting the tone & direction for the team and working out how exactly to accomplish the objectives set by our board).

You're right about the way it affects our choices when we pick our daily work. I think the real work, whether it's a startup or not, is to clarify what's important. You startup folks just get the fun of having to really think deeply about that, because there's nobody above you to tell you what the most important thing is right now.

Actually it might be good to focus on what you do best (up to a point): If your a good coder, make an awesome product. If you are an awesome marketeer, use marketing to your advantage.

I think that the problem lies in busywork instead of creating value, not in doing what you do best (and if you do that, good chance that you can find people who are good in waht you need that will join you).

You are spot on about busywork and creating value.

I agree that founding teams should try to get complementary skill-sets in, but this can't be used as an excuse.

Or differently put… while I agree that everyone should do what they are best in, "focus" should come a bit later. Especially in the early phases founders are cross-disciplinary. I see a few people using the "focus on what you are best" as an excuse for just "doing what you like most" and ignore/hire/blame the rest.

Great article but I think it's a fine line. I am so much more productive when I am doing something I enjoy.

Let's say I am 5 times faster working on what I love to do, but it's only 50% as effective for my business as what I should do. Well it's still better than being 5 times slower to do something that's only twice as important.

The hard part is working out those numbers and knowing what wins, but being aware of the concept is a great start.

well the 'fine line' you mention is the essence of the article that might be lost with a lot of new entrepreneurs i think. you got it exactly right, it's super motivating to do stuff one enjoys, and it gives us enough momentum to do things we might not enjoy as much. but there's this slow transition into self-reassuring ourselves back to cozy comfort zones, in which we're often less productive that we might want to admit we could be, on the long run.

Great point! Totally agree.

as others have mentioned, you have absolutely identified a core issue that can be validated everywhere, everyday. people love adding features instead of improving/validating the core (guilty) and they sure love chatting with other founders/the "scene" about their startups and where they're headed instead of spending their time with finding/growing actual customers. and yes, I even believe most spend too much time at hackathons and events getting feedback from peer entrepreneurs instead of actual customers.

the flip-side of this is important though. I totally agree that most people involved in startups are way too busy 'living the startup-life' and forgetting about the essence and true face of it all, namely that it still is "hardcore business". it still requires picking up the phone, ramping up customer after customer, smart investment of resources and selling 'to the person' and not just tweet about it, and so forth. but, as said, flip-side: if all startups were to face the most traditional form of doing business every day, most would simply not find it fun enough to dedicate their passion to this. so we get a little leeway so we can move around our actual duties and it's all good. there's just this super-fine-line that most of us overlook eventually, where people forget about the essence of what they're supposed to do and just enjoy the lifestyle a tad more than it might be healthy to the mission.

great article, definitely one i'll be coming back to for a refreshing read every once in a while in the future.

Thanks for that. Great and valid points.

I didn't focus on the developer/hackathon vs getting customer aspect.

I believe you are right about it - when it comes to myself 1000% spot–on. But i know the same pattern with biz-centric founder teams, even with balanced founder teams. People just hide in the comfortable skill-zone and wait/blame/hire for the rest

the fact you write about this shows that you're at least able to self-reflect from distance, so that's big. but there's so many who only learn this through failure, and even then often resort to blame it on other things.

this is where a ceo or manager usually excels or completely fails. the best managers i've had, especially in the US, were able to find the sweet-spot. they kept me out of comfort most of the time, but with just the right reward settings, so you will be constantly surprised by your new-found potential and always feel the world is requesting a bit too much from you but you still manage to work it out, all the time, magically.

Personally, I try to balance this by dedicating Monday mornings to the things I don't like doing - to get them out of the way for the week. I also try to have weekly "themes". So one week might be dedicated to a new feature, the next to marketing/support, the next to optimization, etc. That way you have a defined range of activities to focus on each week and you're less likely to stray off into the comfort zone.

The OP discribes what is one of the more crucial skills needed in critical sicumstances: take yourself out of the quotation, take a step back and decide after having seen the whole picture and not just a smal aspect of it that fits your personal preferences best. And then doing it, especially if it's just one big shlep.

What is actually the most dangerous thing to happen, simply because it's so convenient, is that by doing what you can do best all the time keeps you busy, in your eyes and the eyes of others. So when you fail, it was not because you didn't do anything. You're creating your own bubble.

That's why it's better to have a co-founder who is not a carboncopy of yourself and to have a not-awfully-bad board, because both can help to pop that bubble before it is too late.

Very sound advice, and not only for start-ups / founders but for everybody who has a certain responsibility.

Great article. When I speak to students about becoming entrepreneurs, the one thing they seem to gravitate toward the most, is the notion that you get to do what you want, and nobody makes you do things you don't want to do. It is fairly astute, because bad founders do live in that world. It is one of the first myths I dispel (after getting rich quick, and flexible hours). It is hard to make yourself do things you don't want to do, but it is the life of a founder. It takes a lot more discipline to make yourself do the "tough things" than it is to have someone tell you to do them.

I think that working outside comfort zone is not necessarily doing the stuff you don't like. You should do the stuff you like and the stuff you're good at - going out of the comfort zone is trying to break working routine and finding new solutions for old problems, it's, in fact, changing the state of mind and constantly learing new things about stuff you like and stuff you're good at.

Of course, there's still need for objective look and understanding of what should be done first. I guess, balanced team of technical and non-technical cofounders should be the way to have it.

100% agree.

But i know know too many people who take the "this is the job of my co-founder" route as excuse for not caring of the (currently) more important things.

You are right on about even most good people will do this "...fill their time with what they love to do if you let them". That is what separates great people from good people. How to go from good to great in this matter? Be observant of ones own self, extremely hard. As the saying goes "The eyes that can see the whole world can't see themselves without help of a mirror." If that is hard, go find a great mentor who will act as a mirror and help us see what we do as compared to what we need to do.

Very true. It's always funny seeing someone super busy and rushed...because they are taking fun classes they don't actually need to land the business deals the company needs, etc.. Even easier for coders, though, I suppose, to just go do one more feature or tweak or whatever. People go on for years that way sometimes, just to find out they wrote something no one will use.

while I agree & have experienced this myself very often (-> tax-report, accounting, micro-managing :)), I think you could have gotten to the point quicker & more precisely in this blog-post :)

Thanks for the feedback. Will try with the next one.

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