Does Ctrl+Z work at your startup?

by Anjali Gupta

I often wonder if it’s fair to label the actions of startups. For example, is this startup good or bad? Is the idea right or wrong? Is the market small or big? Has the VC come in early or late? Are the founders passionate or experienced or both? Did they hire tech guys first or sales? Did they raise good money or dumb money? Is the plan conservative or aggressive? and so on…(Pardon my venting, I carry around a list of 100+ questions that I’ve repeatedly heard from co-founders, colleagues and investors).

Almost everyone out there has an opinion on everything a startup should and should not do. These questions beg for a boolean answer that labels the startup one way of the other. That’s fair if there was really a right answer. Trust me, even two partners of the same venture fund don’t agree on what the answers should be. As for startup insiders, they base the “right” answer on what’s happening at their own startup. They forget that if we had played the game any other way, our learning would have been different but the questions would be the same. Now you’re a startup that did X instead of Y. But hey, you missed out on learning Y.

My personal belief is that an attitude based on getting labels, or believing one label is better than the other is detrimental to the entire team. It highlights past mistakes vs. past learnings. It instills fear of failure, kills motivation and creativity, and worst of all, hampers the ability to set newer and bigger goals. I like to think of it as taking away the Ctrl+Z (Undo) option from an author who is writing her new book.

The first two years is all about probing, trying, quitting and retrying. Seriously, how much time can you spend looking in the rear view mirror in a ever-changing unpredictable market like India?

As Seth Godin rightly said, Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt.”

If you’re the founder of a startup give yourself an applause every time you press Ctrl+Z. Let’s undo what we did last month and fix it. So what, if we took 6 months to figure out what’s wrong? Let’s take 1 month next time. Let’s bet on more than one idea. Let’s bet on more than one person. If we’re not happy, let’s reinvent the context of our company. No guilt attached. That’s the key. Undo without guilt.

Don’t let anyone – insider or investor, take away your ability to press Ctrl-Z. Don’t let them give you the guilt pill for trying, for taking your time to learn. The faster you accept that no past job or degree is going to help you swim, the faster you will learn to swim. Just dive in. Label yourself “Student #1” rather than “Life Guard” and get going.

The day you make it, call yourself a company and not a startup.

P.S. This post is inspired by my colleague Nigel who shared this quote with me.

“We fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit.” – Seth Godin.