All startups are screwed up. Even when they’re succeeding they are screwed up. A startup has to be so excellent at one or two key things, that they can screw up everything else up and not die.

Your competitors are screwed up too. Don’t assume they’re smarter than you, faster than you, more strategic than you. When you look at them, you’re seeing their best, exaggerated projection, which isn’t the truth.

Jason Cohen,

This is absolutely true. At my company, twenty different things are screwed up at any given time. Encouragingly, they’re not the same ones over time. But because we’re growing fast, it’s natural that as soon as you fix one thing… another one breaks. Luckily, there are a couple of things we do well enough that it compensates for everything else (one of them is admitting and fixing our mistakes).

It took me a decade to gradually realise that all startups are like this, and it’s not just mine that have been unusually screwed up. Many years ago I left a company, but continued to be a customer. Over time, my memories of the day-to-day operations faded, and I was just left with the customer experience – which was great. I assumed they must have fixed a whole lot of things since I left. But then I spoke to someone who was still there…and nope, still screwed up. Just good enough at a couple of important things that customers don’t notice.

When I talk to my friends who run small businesses, they talk openly about their struggles: the marketing efforts that have failed, the competitor who’s just ripped off their new product, the expensive hire for a particular role that’s not working out. But if you go onto their websites or look at their LinkedIn profiles, everything is fantastic.

The first lesson here is that you have to, above all else, make sure you maintain your excellence at the one or two things that keep you alive. That buys you the time you need to sort out everything else.

The second is not to beat yourself up about everything not being perfect. Being constantly dissatisfied is part of being an entrepreneur, because you’re always focusing on the gap between how the world is and how you believe it can be. That’s normal.

Just don’t add to that dissatisfaction by believing that yours is the only business that’s screwed up. Being screwed up is normal too. As long as you’re still alive, you’re clearly good enough at what counts.

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