Second Startup Syndrome

When your ups lift you down
your placebo is too weak
you’re in the syndrome
—Parliament, Placebo Syndrome

Often when super successful entrepreneurs found their second company, they suffer from a dangerous condition. In fact, the more successful the original startup, the more likely it is that the entrepreneur develops an acute case of Second Startup Syndrome.

Second Startup Syndrome occurs when an entrepreneur wants to pick up in her second startup right where her first startup left off. In the beginning, the focus of a startup must be on building a great product and finding product market fit. During this period, there is no glamour and very little breadth—the company must be narrow. Serial entrepreneurs who suffer from Second Startup Syndrome want to skip through the narrow early steps and move quickly to more exciting topics such as long-term strategy, sales and marketing, company positioning, company culture, and more. Unfortunately, when you build a house, it’s usually a very bad idea to start with the roof.

Some telling symptoms of Second Startup Syndrome:

    • The company assumes that the first product will succeed and spends more time figuring out business models and monetization strategies than developing the core product idea.
    • The company becomes obsessed with the things that went wrong in their last company and focuses entirely on how to rid the new company of these mistakes. If the previous company was successful, the entrepreneurs often ignore what went right and focus on what went wrong.
    • The company glosses over important details assuming that what worked the first time will automagically work the second time.

Perhaps the greatest sign of Second Startup Syndrome is a lack of anxiety. Building a new technology company is really, really hard. In order to do it successfully, you have to sweat the details, worry about all the things that might go wrong, and suffer more than a few sleepless nights (either from working through the night or just worrying through the night). All of those things that you go through—a boiling stomach, lack of sleep, waves of paranoia, and vivid visions of your own demise—turn out to be good things.

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