You Lit Your Own Hair on Fire


Fred Perrotta

Startups love to run around with their hair on fire. They love urgent urgent urgent emergencies and, of course, hustle.

The problem is that this is not a healthy or productive way to work. You may get a lot of stuff done, but you'll never have time to properly prioritize what needs done.

Working in a constant state of emergency isn't a requirement for a young company. These wounds are self-inflicted through the choice to pursue VC-funded growth at all costs or through ineffective leadership.

The recent controversy at Thinx prompted me to write about this problem. For reference, here are the initial allegations and the CEO's response.

Some of the language that Agrawal, the CEO, uses is emblematic of the larger problems I see. I'll quote her here not to call her out or to take sides in the Thinx dispute but to illustrate a larger issue.

I wanted to make sure my employees got a continuous paycheck and our shareholders saw growth.

Here is the first issue. Growth above all things. Growth for someone else because you're spending their money.

As for your team? Give them a paycheck, and they'll be fine.

One problem area throughout our startup’s story and no different to many in our position: human resources. I didn’t take time to think through it. We grew so quickly and I didn’t hire an HR person...

Why is HR de-prioritized in these situations? The company and team should be every founder's top priority. No one ever grew so fast they they didn't hire for product or marketing.

Admittedly, we haven't hired an HR person yet at Tortuga. I still handle those duties. I may not handle them perfectly, but at least someone is responsible for them.

All of a sudden, health insurance, vacation days, benefits and maternity leave were brought up ... and when you’re a start-up and you’re growing and moving so fast ..., to sit down and get an HR person and think about those things were left to the bottom of the pile of things to get done.

Again, this is a matter or priorities. We have the same number of hours in a day regardless of what we do with them. Not being on top of HR is a choice. Based on this quote, Thinx chose growth for their shareholders over a great place to work for their people. Founders are free to make these choices, but they must acknowledge that these are choices. These situations don't happen to founders, they are the result of a founder's choices, whether that choice is explicit or implicit.

We like to say that we "ran out of time" to do everything that we wanted. The truth is that we chose to spend our time on other things. As founders, we never have time for everything that we want to do. If we don't own the fact that how we spend our time is a choice, we won't spend it wisely.