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I’m a serial starter. It is not a terrible lot in life, but it can be the death of your start-up or product company. Not to mention it is murdering time and money–the two things everyone in the history of man could benefit from having in their life.

What if Neil Armstrong go to the moon, but someone did not finish their job to get him off that rock? There are a lot of us stranded in the stars without mission control to guide us home.

Frequent starter syndrome is a real thing. We simply call those individuals by different names and give even the unsuccessful ones more credence than they might be due–entrepreneurs.

The very best definition that I have heard for an entrepreneur is someone who takes ownership of a problem they see in the world and they do something about it. The day you decide to solve a problem is your birth date as an entrepreneur. You don’t have to be successful in solving the problem. After all, if anyone else could solve the problem very easily, then it would likely already be done.

Entrepreneurs are special because they choose, whether they are experts or not in the area or industry, to do something about the problem. They tell the world what they are doing and ask others to join them.

I’d like to wear my entrepreneurial start-up badge of honor, but I don’t have a successful exit. The reason: because I’m a poor finisher. This is me being honest with myself and you.

Maybe you should be honest with yourself too if you have never turned a profit and you murder money–thank you Mr. Wonderful a la Shark Tank.

I have created profitable periods of start-up success where more money was coming in than going out–which is better than many start-ups that have higher promise and funding than many of my fledgling product-based software companies. I would venture to say (pun intended) that they also carry with them more clout than my bootstrapping failures that ultimately ended with the same outcome–failure from an inability to finish what we started because we ran out of time and money.

When you choose to work with a venture capital firm, they are vested in telling others what you are doing and pointing you toward success. When you are a bootstrapping founder like I have been, that is my job. If I fail to do my number one job, which is to sell like mad, then I will fail at any problem I chose to tackle.

Do you know what the number one cause of death is around the world? Heart disease? Cancer? Preventable medical errors?

No, it is time. T-I-M-E

Time will ultimately kill all of us. We are not born with heart disease or cancer. It is what we do during our time revolving around the sun after we are born.

Time kills every startup as well.

Starter syndrome is not just for the entrepreneur either. This time of year I’m going to caution you that there is a landslide of starters that don’t finish well. In fact, the research says that 92% of us will make a resolution that will be toast by almost the time their champagne glasses stop ringing following the ball drop. This failure to follow through suggests that the vast majority of us are going about starting the wrong way.

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?

For those about to ring in the New Year in a few months with high hopes for a new business venture or product, this can be the beginning of the end. I call them resolutionists.

Resolutions Fail, Goals Get Finished

I’ve been part of the starter crowd that has not completed what I planned to begin at the start of New Year. I’m not alone. The data says 8% of people stick with their resolutions.

Make a goal instead.

I have a knit hat that I received from running the Monumental Marathon here in Indianapolis several years ago. I model this awesome hat in this post as a reminder. Everyone that participated in the event received the “Finisher” hat whether they did so at a personal record pace or limped across the finish line.

There is a wide variance between the individuals that trained and finished at the top and bottom of the November event. To some, just finishing is a win for the event. You have to start somewhere. Others like myself are trying to beat a prior waterline of performance and PR. The best of the best have their sights a little higher competing for a win.

We see this as well within the start-up ecosystem for products. The lower development costs and barriers to entry have created a plethora of starters, but not many true finishers. What kind of finisher are you–moral victory, besting yourself, or beating the market?

I’m never going to win the Monumental Marathon at my stage in life unless everyone does not show up that morning to run. Goals need to be realistic. Our competitors will show up. Set goals that fit your stage and maturity, but by all means, find new ways to annihilate them.

Earn your hat in 2019. If you are a good product leader, you already have the tool in your toolbox for failing fast and being a finisher. It’s Agile.

Getting All “A’s”

Scrum style Sprints in Marketing, Product Management, or Design keep the focus short and finish line within sights. String a lot of Sprints together, and you can accomplish anything. Unfortunately, too many of us are going about Agile the wrong way. Especially in Marketing.

I’d like to think I’m an Agile Marketing Pro. I have a long way to get there, though–but I have a plan for my team and me. But, I’ve been thinking about it the wrong way. It is not about efficiency.

Agile Marketing solves three problems for Marketing.

  1. We are not good at prioritizing
  2. We are not good at communicating what we are doing–yes, I see the irony with marketing communication
  3. We can be terrible at estimating what we can accomplish in a given time period

I would love to take all the credit for these three, but I heard Agile Marketing author Jascha Kaykas-Wolff on the Marketing Agility Podcast years ago talking about this with the hosts.

It’s true. Agile brings better prioritization to what’s important now–WIN. I have a sticky note with W.I.N. at eye level in the office to remind me. Asking yourself and your team what is important and why will help you finish the right things first. Agile has a system for doing this as a team, but I have had a Scum-of-One as well.

I’ve also had to tell myself and team members that we need to over-communicate what we are working on. Agile helps with a framework and tools for doing just that–if we use them.

Finally, time is the greatest resource for stripping away what is truly important now. Do you remember your last presentation to a group? There is a defined stopping point and what gets done before the presentation makes it in, right? Practical use and understanding of time developed through experience and practice separates the moral victories from those winning in the market getting all “A’s” for yourself and your team of “A-players.”

Sprints define a period of a few weeks to ensure that we get down what we estimate during that period. Over time, trends develop and we can see where we need to be better at estimating our productivity.

I live sprint to sprint at work and at home.  My post-it note system is not perfect, but it works for me at home. I’m managing a family with 5 active kids, a career, health & fitness, a master’s in Data Science, and a side hustle because I love the entrepreneurial grind.

Starters Fail Fast

I’m not heaping praise on the lot of us that “fail fast” which has made its way up and down the beltway for decades as an axiom of success. Speed for speed sake is not the recipe for starters to finish. In fact, failure upon failure upon failure is demotivating, so goals should be SMART. The achievable (A) and/or realistic (R) aspects of these goals are very important to anything we start. It takes the experience to know what is achievable and realistic. While I may want to get to my ideal weight 30lbs. less than today, a goal of next week is not realistic. It might not even be this year.

Failing fast for starters with your product can also stymie your career and product growth in the wrong organization. In fact, In Tim Brown’s book on Design Thinking (“Change by Design“) he talks about the concept of “Fail early, fail often.” Unfortunately, businesses talk a good game but don’t necessarily embrace failing fast and often if it does not align with your current culture. When you fail early and often you might miss a few gems had you persevered. Seth Godin’s book The Dip is a great Audible listen. It is quick. Insightful. A must read for anyone that takes responsibility for a problem and wishes to solve it. (I also enjoy his podcast Akimbo–fanboy alert)

Instead, we need to look at all failure as learning. It is a mindset shift. If we learn nothing from failure, then yes we have failed. If we build on these setbacks, that forms a foundation from which we will rise from starter to finisher.

Stop Starting

We have to be better at starting what we finish. I’m a Guy Kawasaki fanboy for the “Art of the Start,” but there has to be more than good intentions. I’ve written several times before on other blogs about the difference between being convinced and being committed.

There are a lot of people that are convinced that they need to be healthier in 2018 as an example. Less than 8% of us will achieve those goals this year. How committed are you to what you are starting?

If this New Year you are going to resolve to do something with yourself, work, product, behaviors, or anything else, make sure you set short-term, focused goals, with lines you can cross. Tools like Agile, Scrum, and Kanban are great for Product leaders if there are used in the spirit that they were intended.

If employing Agile is an effort to get more output from yourself or team–I wish you well! You might find yourself with fewer “A’s” and part of the 92%. Plan from the start for your finish and use milestones along the way to track your progress to go from Start-up to Finish-up.

 

There are five pillars you must employ to be a Finish-up success. I wish I came up with these five, but they have been tested and trusted for centuries. To be successful with anything, you need the following present:

 

  1. Better Planning and Preparation
  2. Professional Accountability/ Someone who has been there and done that (often paid)
  3. Social Support – Cheerleaders
  4. A Meaningful Incentive
  5. Big Deadline/ Finishline

You can apply this to your business, health, career, or family…anything. Again, I did not come up with these five pillars but I heard Craig Ballantyne on Funnel Hacker Radio back on April 16, 2016 talking about them. It is the blueprint for success transforming any area in your life. We need all five. Most of us fail to do the stack and wonder why we are not seeing success.

The Transition from Serial Starter to Serial Finisher

There is an old Chinese proverb that states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today.” How will you plant the seeds of a serial finisher today and win in 2018 and beyond?

I would love to hear from you in the comments below the steps you are taking to move from serial starter (frequent starter syndrome) to serial finisher. You won’t. You will move to the next thing you have to get started without applying anything. I challenge you to finish here today with a comment below even if it is an affirmation, public profession of your commit, or encouragement for social support.

Personal mastery takes a community of committed individuals working together for a common goal. I learn from others daily. Sometimes through one-on-one, books, podcasts, webinars, and blogs.

It is how we take action on that information that will define who we ultimately become in life. Have a partner or someone to keep cheering you on is a great way to make keep your eyes on the finish.

Don’t kill time, money, or professional growth with a lack of focus.

I want to be a better version of myself every day–better than today. You can too if we just start and finish with the right mindset and use the tools available to pour kerosene on the fire.

Have a wonderful New Year! Join our community and start the year off with us.

Brian Stout
Fastr Finisher

This an updated version of my blog  that I wrote on my Product Maker Mastery site PMrounds.com
See the original blog from December 27, 2016 below.

Finish-Up: Frequent Starter Syndrome is the Death of Time, Money, and Product Growth