Confidence will get your startup off the ground. Prevent your ego from putting it six feet under.

“Ego gets you inches but it doesn’t get you impact.”

-Cameron Sinclair

As a startup leader, your confidence can make AND break your business.  Be conscious of the “the” trap and focus instead on what really paves the way to your company’s future.

We were THE FIRST. Being first shows those not brave or smart enough to pioneer that there’s a real market for what you do.  Pebble’s demise… Rim’s (Blackberry) eclipse by Apple, Google, Samsung. Prove the market opportunity and others will jump in for a piece of the action.

Our technology is THE BEST. Your company’s secret sauce is only as good as consumers perceive it to be. In the 2000’s startups like Proxim bet on HomeRF and Sharewave versus WIFI (now a part of everyone’s home or business).  Where are they now? In the 1970’s Beta battled only to lose to VHS (which incidentally lived on for 40 years until its end-of-life this year).

We are THE LEADER.  Don’t take your lead for granted. You’re the leader until one day you wake up and you’re not. Linksys dominated the home WIFI landscape with 70% share, only to be overtaken by a very hungry and nimble Netgear.  And with the new wave of mesh WIFI startups, current leaders like Netgear had better beware.

We are THE BIGGEST.   If you’re leading a startup division of a major brand, get that chip off your shoulder. If you’re an independent startup, take the fortune 1000 seriously, but don’t give up when you see them enter the game. Microsoft launched a branded WIFI product and never made traction. Cisco bought Linksys and Flip, only to sell off and discontinue those businesses later.  Broadcom made a very expensive go at the wireless/cell chip market, finally giving up.

When your market heats up, heed this advice to survive and thrive.

Customer first.  Listen, don’t preach to them.  They are right, no matter how often you tell yourself they don’t know what they’re talking about.

“They’re always going to know better if they are going to be our customer.” – Seth Godin

Appreciate your staff. Your employees are the core of your business, and their commitment to your mission is critical. Confirm their value by making their input count. Treat your startup staff as a team. From sales on the front lines to the accountant closing the books, they see things you don’t. Hearing them not only helps your business, it connects them deeply to your mission and momentum.  Perks like free meals are cool, but overindulgence on the superficial has diminishing returns.

Never underestimate your competition.  The smart ones are constantly scanning for one little opening. That’s all it takes to infiltrate your lead. And hungry competitors are relentless once they expose your weakness.

Don’t sacrifice profit.  No money, no mission.  Top line revenue looks good for a while and keeps the cash flow going.  But there’s no substitute for cash in the bank, especially when venture investments scatter. You’re going to need it to fend off those vying for your lead.

About the author:

Suzanne Oehler is an energetic, driven business leader with 15 years in consumer and enterprise tech Sales. Widely regarded for opening and expanding business in brick-and-mortar Retail and digital E-Commerce for consumer technology hardware start-ups, she designs and implements winning Sales strategies that navigate the complexities of Consumer markets.