I am an addict. I am addicted to alcohol, sugar, success, entrepreneurs, startups, and work. I’ll keep the list short for now. I’m sure my wife, Kathy, can complete the list. She has been married to me for over 38 years. Whatever it is, I am all in. No halfway for me. There isn’t balance, and that is what makes it an addiction.
My addiction holds out a promise to me. It challenges me. My addiction tells me, “You give in to me and you will be satisfied. You’ll enjoy life. I’ll take the edge off all the other stresses in life. You and me, all alone. Content. Trust me. Try it. Come on, do it.”
But you know the truth. If you continue to feed the addiction, it wants more. Ultimately, you discover that giving in is not enough. It wants you. It wants you dead. Then and only then is addiction satisfied.
I find entrepreneurs have their own special addictions. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs all my adult life. That’s 40 years of entrepreneurs. In that time, I’ve experienced three types of entrepreneur addictions which lead to death. They are an addiction to funding, sales, and product.
I was leading a board meeting for one of my companies. The agenda was filled with all that you would expect including the most important topic, “When will we run out of money?”
The founder really caught my attention. He said, “We have raised several rounds of funding. Now we are talking about another round. I don’t want to do this anymore. We have to build a business which generates the cash flow to sustain us. We have to get off this addiction of perpetual funding.”
All I could say was, “Hooray!”
This addiction promises “sales solves all problems.” The behavior which results from this addiction is out of control spending. This addict is always hiring. As his sales increase, the hiring increases. He never gets to profitability. This entrepreneur ultimately sells his way right out of business or out of his job as CEO.
The conversation goes something like this:
Investor: “So what are your plans for this month?”
Entrepreneur: “We have lots of activity in the pipeline. This month we are going to rock! I have one deal, that if we close it, will put us at a whole new level. We will be on our way.”
Investor: “What are your expenses for this month?”
Entrepreneur: “Our salaries are about $50k, and we have rent and other stuff. I don’t know. But you just have to know. Sales are coming.”
Investor: “If you don’t know your monthly nut, how do you know how much in sales is needed to cover it? Do you have a sales target you are trying to achieve?”
Entrepreneur: “I don’t want a target. I want to hit the highest sales number I can possibly get to. Targets are too limiting.”
I think you get the picture. It sounds like insanity, and it is. It is an addiction. Keep losing money with the hope that one day sales will go through the roof and all will be well. It never is with the sales-addict entrepreneur.
“If we add this feature, people will be begging us for the product,” says the product-addict entrepreneur.
The product addict believes the lie, “If you build it, they will come.” The addiction is the product. They think about it all the time. The are constantly talking about and improving it. They want you to see it and need your feedback. It is their baby. It is their hope.
Investor: “What do you see as the greatest challenge for your company?”
Entrepreneur: “Getting the product right. If we do this, the market will light up. When they see what we have, they will clearly see how they can make (or save) money. It will literally change their operation.”
Investor: “Isn’t the issue marketing and sales? The product looks pretty good to me. How many customers do you have now that have actually paid for the product?”
Entrepreneur: “We have beta customers, and they love it. But they are finding some features that would make it more useful. We need to make these enhancements to get to paying customers.”
The First Step
You must break the addiction to succeed. The first step to breaking the addiction is to admit you have the addiction. Admit it is a problem. Admit you are believing the lie of the promise of the addiction.
Here is the first step in the AA 12 Step program: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
The first step for the addict entrepreneur is to admit his addiction. Admit that more funding, more sales, or a more fully featured product will not result in a more valuable company. It will feed your behavior, which will result in an unsustainable company. You and the company will fail.
Admit it. Say it out loud at the next board meeting. Hear the sigh of relief from your board members. Move to the next 11 steps. Get to work with your team in planning for the success of the company.
The Twelve Steps
- We admitted we were powerless over our addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.