Lone Wolf Syndrome26 Oct 2011
With the success of one man tech companies like InstaPaper, there is this surge of desire within the Startup Community to go at projects alone and to not hire any employees at all. I think that is the desire of everyone who starts a business and or goes into business for themselves, this wish to not have to deal with employees and business partners while still being successful. Growing up my father use to always tell me that “if you can’t hire someone to do the job right, you might as well do it yourself.” This works for many people but here is where I caution those of you looking at keeping your startup a one man show and why it’s best to remember that it’s not having business partners and employees that’s the problem, it’s having the wrong partners and employees that kills Startups.
If you own a business than you need to read the “Cash Flow Quadrant” by Robert Kiyosaki which by far I think is one of the best psychological analysis of the business world as a whole. In the book he splits all of society up into four basic categories, Employees, Self-Employed, Business Owners and Investors. Without going into much of the books other more infomercial like components you need to understand this is actually a very astute comparison to make. I grew up in a very business minded home and was always taught to stay in school and get the piece of paper but think differently about what it is that I want to do with my life. The examples in the book came to life for me because I’ve seen every aspect of them first hand as you probably have as well, but it’s important to note that there is no right or wrong position to be in one of the 4 categories, you can be successful in all of them, but what is important is the mindset you have in the process.
He goes on to explain that Employees use words like “benefits” and “security”. He says that what he thinks drives them sometimes is fear but I think it’s more a factor of stability, there’s nothing wrong with that if what you’re looking for is a stable life, it’s just most Employees don’t prepare for the lack of stability towards the end of their lives and usually hand their money over to a sales man who sells them on a bond or securities portfolio and that’s when most get into trouble.
The Self employed in the book are like my father, again nothing bad about being a lone wolf or a specialist at something and working for yourself but for them money is not important, “independence” and “freedom” are. They are sometimes considered experts in their fields and like to do things their own way. Quality of work is much more important than money.
Business owners look for the best Employee’s and the Self Employed and are the ones that look to hire them so that they can keep their minds busy with the occupation of thinking. This may seem wrong as many Self Employed people consider themselves Business Owners but the book gives an interesting difference between the two. If you can walk away from your business without having a hand in it letting managers and the people you’ve hired to handle the day to day concerns than you’re a Business Owner, a real Business Owner can leave his business for a year, and return to find it more profitable. They build a system that is capable of running on its own, with capable managers. There are not that many good Business Owners in the world that can do this successfully but the occupation of thinking that I was discussing before involves focusing your energies on new Products, business concepts and ideas of course.
Investors make money with money. They don’t have to work because their money is working for them. This is how the book says “great wealth is made” but most people aren’t looking for that so it really doesn’t matter. To those that are but have never successfully gotten to that point, it’s their way of thinking that tends to keep them from being able to achieve it, like a Self Employed person wanting to make millions when they won’t hire anyone else, or the Employee hoping to invest in the stock market all the while someone is collecting fees for every stock purchased or month gone by. If wealth is the number of days one can survive without physically working and still maintain their standard of living, then investors can simply do nothing and their grandchildren will still be provided for. Some investors are considered employees, but only in their own corporations and for tax reasons.
I went through all of this to explain that it’s okay to be a lone wolf developer and there are some cases like in InstaPaper’s situation where you can make it big and have millions of users generating millions of dollars as only one person. Yet we should see those cases as the exception to the rule and not the rule itself. If own a company and want to grow then put all your focus on finding the right people for the right positions and not just hiring to fill a position. Some of the greatest business stories of all time seem to show a single man with a single business mission but those individuals in most cases were smart enough to surround themselves with the people necessary to do the job right and allowed them time to think and strategize the opportune direction for their companies.