3 Psychological Traps that Keep Your Startup in the Trough of Sorrow

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You’re stuck in the trough of sorrow. No matter what you do, nothing in your company is improving.

You look around you, and everyone you know is crushing it. Their companies are getting acquired, they’re raising huge funding rounds, and they’re announcing new product features that people love.

But not you. You’re stuck in the trough of sorrow, and it feels like you’ll never get out. It’s emotionally trying and tough to handle psychologically, and you’ll want to quit. That’s why famed startup investor Paul Graham has said that the number one underlying cause of startup death is that “the [founders] become demoralized.”

How you handle those plateaus, psychologically, will determine whether you remain stalled there forever and your company ends up in the startup graveyard. You’ll face these three psychological traps — avoid them, and you’ll have a chance of making it out alive on the other side.

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A Remarkable, 10-Year-Old Email from Tony Hsieh on Zappos Company Culture

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In early 2005, Tony Hsieh was a relative unknown.

Zappos was a fast-growing company, but it was far from being the household brand that it is today. While it hadn’t yet come up with its core values for which it is famous today, the company had a growing sense of its own culture and identity. They were on the cusp of something big.

It was against this backdrop that Hsieh emailed this never-before published update to investors, employees, partners, and friends of Zappos. It’s an awesome behind-the-scenes look at what drove Hsieh and kept him up at night. In this glimpse into how Hsieh thought about building a company, you can see the seeds of what would grow into Zappos’s world-famous company culture and brand.

Within five years, Zappos would hit $1 billion in revenue and Hsieh would author Delivering Happiness, a #1 New York Times Bestseller, which would catapult him into being one of the most influential business persons in the world. But here is an unfiltered look into the mind of Tony Hsieh, before the notoriety and fame.

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This Deli Makes $50 Million a Year By Staying Small

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It’s crazy to learn about a deli that makes $50 million dollars a year. It’s stranger yet how they’ve done it.

Most restaurants grow their revenue by opening more locations and eventually developing a franchise model like Subway. You sell more and more sandwiches as you open more and more stores. The problem is that the quality inevitably declines. Your restaurant becomes more about volume than great food and remarkable service.

Zingerman’s, a deli based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, faced this fork in the road: open more locations or face continually stagnating revenue growth. Instead of choosing the conventional franchise path, they blazed their own trail.

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How to Hire Like Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos Early Amazon

It’s hard to believe now, but in the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos had a tough time hiring.

While he had some extreme methods, he refused to compromise on them even when the company was in desperate need to staff up. Bezos stuck to his guns and turned down candidate after candidate, much to the frustration of his lieutenants.

What must have felt unbearable in the short term turned out to be absolutely critical in the long term, as Amazon built the unique and high-performing company culture that made it the prime tech giant it is today.

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95% of Managers Follow an Outdated Theory of Motivation

Ford assembly line in the 1940s

What, by a long shot, is the most important motivator for employees at work? Is it money, pressure, or praise?

Typically managers believe the idea that pressure makes diamonds. The thinking is that if you want exceptional performance, you align employee objectives with end-of-year bonuses for hitting certain milestones and then employees will turn up their work ethic to reach them.

Long-held conventional wisdom on management dies hard. That’s because it’s based on gut instinct and superstition — and managerial understanding of motivation is no different. A massive 95% of managers are wrong about what the most powerful motivator for employees at work.

Not only that, they’re thinking about employee motivation fundamentally wrong.

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The Boring Trait Google Looks For in Its Leaders

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The prototypical leader is a hero: gives the rousing speech, inspires the troops, and shows up at the last minute to save the day. At least that’s how leaders are portrayed. but that’s not at all what Google discovered as their most important qualities.

At Google, they’re obsessive about looking at data to determine what makes employees successful and what they found in the numbers was surprising.

The most important character trait of a leader is one that you’re more likely to associate with a dull person than a dynamic leader: predictability. The more predictable you are, day after day, the better.

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What Will Fast Company Write about Your Startup’s Culture?

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Successful entrepreneurs like Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, exhort startups to write down their core values on Day 1 and make company culture a first-order concern from the very beginning.

Have you tried it? The problem is that after you look at what you wrote, you’ll probably see a bunch of boring clichés. Many of your company values might sound suspiciously similar to Zappos’s and Netflix’s. Your company couldn’t sound less exciting.

Molly Graham, former Head of Mobile at Facebook, who worked with Mark Zuckerberg to define Facebook’s company culture in 2008, recognized this common pitfall. She came up with an ingenious solution to the problem, rooted in a simple trick that Amazon uses to build its products, that helped Facebook own the Hacker brand that defined the company through its IPO.

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How to Get Your Team to Deliver

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Aimlessness is a tricky foe. It creeps in even when we have the best intentions, corroding motivation and meaningful progress, rearing its ugly head in stalled projects, avoided emails, the checked-out employee.

In the world of software development, aimlessness is public enemy number one. When it may take up to six months to a year to develop an idea into a usable application, it’s easy to lose sight of goals and your team loses steam.

If you have 83,000 lines of code, what does that mean? Where are you going? When coming into work starts to feel like Groundhog’s day, and focus dwindles, progress isn’t how many lines of code you’re writing.

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3 Surprising Science-Backed Ways to Find More Time Today

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Somehow, time is your enemy, while more time is also a luxury.

Things weren’t much different a few centuries ago in 1682, when William Penn wrote: “Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst.

Understanding our strange relationship with time simply helps us manage it better. When you feel like you have time, the world opens up. You’re motivated to act and explore on the one hand, and savor and breathe, on the other.

Contrast that when you feel like you don’t have enough time. It’s stressful and taxing and you start making decisions based on that anxious feeling of lack. It might mean reaching for the quick, unhealthy snack rather than your usual walk and putting those non-urgent (but important) activities that nourish and enrich you, like exercise, personal projects, and relationships, on hold.

Since how you think about time affects the reality of how you spend it, the ability to influence that perception can be incredibly powerful. Here are three surprising methods, backed by research, that will help expand your sense of time and motivate better decisions about how you use it.

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