Startup life isn’t for everyone. Forget the glamorous way “The Social Network” portrayed it. It’s more like the opening scenes of “There will be Blood.”
Come to think of it, life in the Army was less like “Stripes” and more like “Saving Private Ryan.”
And in the Army is where I was first introduced to the concept of, “Get off the X.”
In simple and graphic terms – get out of the kill zone.
The kill zone is that place in time and space where you and your unit have been ambushed by an unseen and hostile enemy intent on making the kill zone live up to its moniker. The key to surviving being caught in the kill zone is to get out – move forward, move away from hostile fire, but for gosh sakes MOVE!
Startup life isn’t all that different.
You’ve got bills to pay, mouths to feed, pitch decks to build and refine, air conditioning units that crap out in the middle of 90+ degree Alabama summer days, one toilet for a team of 11, blog posts to produce, code to write, and today of all days, your two partners decide it is “Mellow Indie” day when what you need is a jack-knifed guitar shredding dose of hair metal. So yeah, every day is about moving.
Oh wait, that’s just about our Startup. Apologies.
The larger kill zone for Startups, and any business, is a collection of enemies all intent on stopping movement.
Meet: Stagnation, Distraction and Like-Minded-ation (yes, I just made this last word up)
Stagnation. There are a couple of buzz words out and about in the startup scene right now which seek to describe that moment, or collection of moments, when founders realize they’re in the kill zone and need to move.
- Fail Forward
The concept here is simple. The assumptions made when developing the business have just proven themselves incorrect or unsustainable and the startup is in the kill zone. Fold and go home, or move – rapidly adjusting the business plan to meet new data, learning or a fresher set of assumptions that leaves the window open for another day of entrepreneurial freedom. It’s okay to fail. It may even be an expectation that every startup experience failure of some sort so the founders’ ability to maneuver out of the kill zone will now become a predictor of future fortune and glory. Fail forward, pivot or die.
Distraction. By nature, entrepreneurs experience ‘chasing the shiny new object’ syndrome. Many of the successful entrepreneurs I know grow bored and distant when their business has matured beyond some of the day to day challenges they faced in the beginning. That, coupled with the intrinsic desire to solve problems, or even identify problems the market was unaware of don’t lend themselves to the relentless focus required to navigate out of a kill zone.
Become distracted, chase too many objects at once, lose sight of the vision (or fail to update the vision), and/ or ignore your market once you get rolling and it will all equal, “one shot, one kill.”
Getting out of the “distraction” kill zone is tough. You need honest partners who aren’t afraid to speak up when the team is chasing unicorns in rainbow drenched fields of wildflowers.
Forget mythical creatures for a moment while I lead you into my last kill zone for business, ‘Like-Minded-ation.’
In other words, there is a healthy respect for one another which develops over time and action within any small unit on the battlefield or in a startup. Or it should. Successful startups and military units have it in spades.
It can be as simple as asking the boss, or founder, “let’s go grab a cup of coffee next door.” It can be as confrontational as the conference table meltdown (not recommended), but it has to happen.
Someone has to disagree in order for change to take place.
Someone has to give an informed and thought out dissenting opinion in order for progress to begin.
Get off the X. Get out of the kill zone of everyone going along with the boss, everyone thinking the same way.
Do it respectfully and you’ll thrive. Act like an ass clown and your second job at the coffee shop may just become your first.
One of my leadership mantras for Verge Pipe Media is, “Get off the X.” I keep a watchful eye for the ambush from stagnation, distraction and like-minded-ation. When they hit, we double down on forward movement. You can too if you learn what the kill zones for you startup are and have a plan for movement when you get caught.