Combatting the Holy Grail Syndrome: What I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Business

March 11, 2015


Have you ever been up late racking your brains, trying to come up with different ways to grow your business? Fix your business? Scale your output as an owner? The trials and tribulations; the blood, sweat, and tears; the late nights spent away from family and friends. You’ve been down that road, right?

Whew. For a second there, I thought I was alone.

Now, I should preface all of this by stating that I’m really not trying to be that guy complaining about how hard it is to be an entrepreneur. I mean, we all have a choice in our career paths ... right? Or do we?

When it comes to the companies we create, it's almost as though they themselves become our children: Living, breathing entities that we cannot bear to see reach anything but their full potential. At that point, do we really have much choice in the matter?

I don't believe we do. It's in our DNA as entrepreneurs to not just survive, but to thrive. And that's often at the cost of our personal lives -- which is why we often find ourselves tirelessly searching for that one solution that'll alleviate the stress of it all.

The "Holy Grail Syndrome"

The Holy Grail Syndrome is a condition that causes a business owner to set out on futile quests to mine a single solution to his or her troubles. 

In my case, for example, I used to think there existed a silver bullet -- an ultimate answer to the problems I experienced as a business owner -- and that I couldn't quite reach it because of some fault of mine. At one point, I thought the missing puzzle piece was that one key hire. When that person couldn't manage to solve my problems, I thought maybe I just needed to discover the right tool. But alas, no state-­of-­the-­art platform could address all of the issues that remained at the end of the day. But I pressed on, searching for that one something that would change everything.

If any of this sounds familiar, you too have experienced a case of Holy Grail Syndrome. I'll sharpen the skills I need to do it all by attending this expensive conference, you think to yourself. I'll bring in a consultant who can help me learn to do it all. I'll pay for a workshop that'll better my team, and then I won't need to do it all.

I hate to break it to you, but nothing is going to enable you to do it all -- namely because you can't do it all.

Though we'd all like to believe that somewhere in this world there exists a Holy Grail to End All Business Problems, the fact of the matter is that we're already equipped with all that we're ever need -- and that's resilience. We need to be able to bounce back from the bad days, tune out the politics, and trudge through the late nights if we're going to see our businesses succeed. (Of course, pairing that dedication with a hand­picked team of excellent individuals, along with a dash of pure luck, certainly helps to better the odds of our businesses "making it big.")

So if it really boils down to good old­-fashioned hard work and dedication, perhaps what we really need to do is not resist the struggle, but embrace it.

I know, I know ... that reads like a bad self­-help book. But I'm serious. If we accept the fact there are no quick fixes in business (or life, for that matter), then maybe the challenges we face won't seem so arduous.

Here are a few words of wisdom from Ben Horowitz, Founding Partner of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, taken from his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers:

Every time I read a management or self-­help book, I find myself saying, 'That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.' The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those 'great people' develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare."

Think about all of this the next time you face a really hard decision -- which, for all you know, might happen in the next five minutes. Then remind yourself that it takes unremitting focus and drive to power through.

Now, I'd like to share with you the five things I wish I'd known sooner about being an entrepreneur. They aren't hidden solutions, but for whatever they're worth, here goes.

1) Understand and visualize your personal and professional goals.

Getting your goals and to-do's out of your head and into a system allows your brain to stop endlessly looping through them like a bad GIF. (It also means you’ll have a better shot of actually sleeping at night. Now there’s a novel idea!)

What are the best ways to do this? Chris Winfields' "Dream, Dump, Map, Chunk" system is a very useful technique. It requires thinking about your goals and ambitions, getting them all down on paper, using a mind map to create a simple system that helps you manage these goals, and then spend a set period of time breaking them all down into simple, visual tasks. I like to couple that system with some mind­-mapping or white-boarding. (MindMeister is great for this.)

2) Know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your key people.

You will always be your most finite resource. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to distribute your time in the right places. To do this, you might want to consider asking your colleagues to “grade” you through an app like Knozen. I promise you, the results will be both sobering and functional.

As far as your team goes, it’s not news that you’re dealing with a mixed bag of personalities. Different people react to different management styles and reward systems. I’ve administered various skills and personality tests among my employees. DiSC and StrengthsFinder are two that definitely stand out from the rest. I can’t emphasize how vastly helpful they can be in determining your team’s capabilities.

3) Understand where your focus should lie.

Don’t succumb to the utilitarian version of Pareto’s principle --  you know, when you wind up spending 80% of your time on only 20% of what's really important. Focus on key revenue sources and profit drivers that align with the values of you and your team.

4) Beware of time sucks.

Set a framework for SMART meetings. Here’s a template we have all attendees use in our meetings:

  • Why are we having this meeting?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • How can we ensure we accomplish it?
  • How can we ensure we respect our time, each other, and have some fun?

This helps to ensure everyone’s time is being maximized and that the meeting doesn’t spiral into a total time suck.

As for email ... well, let’s just call a spade a spade. Email is the death of productivity in our global workforce. We spend so much time sifting through our inboxes and talking about work, that we often wind up wasting hours before actually tending to any work. Manage your time through techniques such as Inbox Zero, and set expectations around what you deem effective communication. Replacing useless emails with more action­-driven correspondence can save you countless hours every week.

I personally use (and love) Trello (a collaboration tool for to-do lists) and HipChat (a group chat platform). Slack is another awesome team communication platform, too.

5) Don't lose sight of the “why.”

Simon Sinek's famous TED talk, “Start with Why,” kick-started a revolution in how people think and inspire one another. Don't forget why you started your business. Take that “why” and lead with it in everything you do. This allows your internal filter to discern what really matters to you from all of the extraneous crap you contend with every day. (Click here for more takeaways from Sinek's TED talk.)

Okay, got it. Now what?

If you can avoid the pitfalls of the dreaded Holy Grail Syndrome, them maybe -- just maybe -- you won’t be on the wrong side of the startup statistics. Know your goals, break them down, and focus on why you started your business in the first place. It’s important for each of us to remember that -- try as we might! -- we simply cannot do it all. Accept that, and you just might find your potential for success as a founder double overnight.

What about your business keeps you up at night? How do you circumvent those tantalizing “quick fixes”? Share with me in the comment section or tweet at me at @petesena.

free marketing goal setting template



Previous Article
The Growth Show: How One Woman Built a Fashion Business That Gives Back
The Growth Show: How One Woman Built a Fashion Business That Gives Back

As an entrepreneur, failure is an everyday activity. It’s how...

Next Article
7 Data-Backed Tips for Sending Better Emails [Infographic]
7 Data-Backed Tips for Sending Better Emails [Infographic]

Like many other marketing channels, email is constantly evolving...


Join the Phoenix HubSpot User Group

First Name
Company Name
Thank you!
Error - something went wrong!