Vampires are some of the most cunning, deadly and feared creatures on Earth and they are killing startups as you read this. Most people think vampires are a myth, but they are in fact very real. With Halloween upon us, it’s important to be on the lookout for these blood sucking fiends, especially when it comes to protecting your startup. Startup vampires are everywhere, and if one manages to infiltrate your ranks, it will slowly suck the life out of your company by draining your most precious resource – time.
I’ve heard bad influences in startups often described as cancer, slowly intoxicating your organization from the inside out. I prefer to think of these bad influences as vampires instead, because unlike cancer, which often can’t be defended against, startup vampires can be defeated.
One of the the more common types of startup vampires are investors. Investor vampires try to be involved with every decision and force you to waste your precious time explaining why you are making certain choices. They usually need constant progress updates, and instead of spending time working with your team to get shit done, you’re talking with them about how you plan to get shit done. A vampire investor may even force you to have meetings with his vampire buddies to make himself look good by showcasing his portfolio. If you have a feeling that an investor is going to be hard to work with and will probably waste your time, just do yourself a favor and avoid him so he can’t infect you.
Vampires can also sneak into your startup by posing as customers. Customer vampires usually demand custom features and constantly need one-on-one support, causing you to die a slow and painful death if you are not adept at defending yourself. It’s difficult to differentiate between a customer who legitimately needs a feature and one that is actually a detriment to your success, and it’s up to you to figure out which one is which. If you find your constantly in the weeds with one customer in particular while your other ones are just fine, you may have a vampire on your hands. A good test to see if you have a vampire is to envision the scenario of firing this customer, and if you’re leaping for joy at the thought and think you can move much more quickly by focusing on making your other customers happier, chances are you have a vampire on your hands in need of some slaying.
The third most common form of vampires are the deadliest of all and can infect and kill your company from the inside out. Yes, I’m talking about the bloodthirsty employee vampire.
We all like to think we’re fantastic at choosing the A%2B players for our team, but sometimes a vampire can infiltrate our ranks without us even realizing it. Employee vampires are skilled at talking a big game without producing many real results. They will keep score of their accomplishments, however minor, so when their vampirism is pointed out, they have a solid defense mounted. They’re adept at persuasion and will probably try to bring the rest of your team down to their level just so they don’t have to work as hard. As a startup founder, it’s your job to drive vampires out of your startup and keep the rest of your team safe from the negativity and ineptitude.
Defending against startup vampires
Is it possible to defend against startup vampires? Yes, and it’s surprisingly easy. Vampires cannot enter a place unless first invited into it, so just don’t invite vampires into your startup in the first place! This fact is so simple, yet subtle, that the main problem at hand is not defeating vampires, it’s figuring out who they are in the first place.
Startup vampires look almost identical to non-vampires so it’s very hard to guess who will end up sucking your startup’s lifeblood. Luckily, the human brain is unbelievably efficient at unconsciously aggregating your experiences into meaningful data for you to quickly react on, more commonly thought of as your gut. Your gut is your single most powerful tool for avoiding vampires. If you met a real vampire, your gut would pick up on its pale skin, aversion to sunlight, and opposition to showing its teeth. When you feel that something is a just not right about a person, that’s your gut warning you that you’re talking with a vampire. and you should avoid that person.
Defeating startup vampires
When you find yourself spending valuable time and mindshare musing with your cofounder or confidant about someone who gives you the creeps, chances are he’s a vampire and it’s your job to go Buffy on his ass and slay him before he starts feeding off your time. If you’re having any doubts about someone, then politely decline to invite that person into your startup, because usually it’s the people you choose to work with that will destroy you, not the people you avoid.
And if you do happen to realize you’ve let a vampire into your startup, you’re going to have to kill him, and the reality is that vampires are extremely hard to kill. They are skilled offensively with super strength and speed, so you’re best offense is to strike before they strike you. Remember that it’s ok to not take an investors term sheet, sign on a new customer, or fire an employee who sucks. It can be painful to have to stab someone with a wooden stake or rip off her head, but once your startup is vampire free, you can proceed stronger than ever before.
Do you have any experiences or horror stories about dealing with startup vampires? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below.