Month: March 2013

Rockstar or One-Hit Wonder?

The term “rockstar” gets thrown around a lot in the startup world. It’s supposed to mean someone who’s awesome at what they do, perhaps in the 98th percentile compared to their peers. Some startups will issue a press release touting their latest hire as “a rockstar in the {insert expertise here} world.”

But it seems many are lumped into this category without having much to show for it. Did someone have a cool title at a hot startup for a year, then left before achieving anything significant? What about a “star” developer who can’t show you any examples of what he’s built?

I’ve worked for companies of all sizes. My own personal experience: I’ve seen more rockstars at Fortune 500s than at startups. The real stars don’t achieve excellent results just once; excellence is who they are. Give them any project and they’ll not only crush it, they’ll crush it in a way that makes others want to work with them and makes their bosses look really smart. Their results are awesome and real.

So if the term must be used, let’s at least reserve it for those who earned it. Otherwise your latest rockstar hire may turn out to be a one-hit wonder.

Everything is Contagious


I’m not talking about germs, I’m referring to moods – which can be just as infectious. In a close-knit dynamic like a startup, moods are especially contagious and the leaders set the tone. Just as panicked CEOs create panic amongst their teams, they can also foster an upbeat, motivational culture.

Startup employees have good reason to be more sensitive to their leader’s moods than at larger companies. After all, their CEO’s giddiness could mean the company just closed a huge deal that could change their lives. On the flip side, a chronically cranky leader might mean imminent doom for all.

Studies show that happy employees are much more productive than their disgruntled counterparts. The more a founder is aware of how much they set the company’s tone, the more they can position it for success by spreading the positivity and enthusiasm.

Passion vs. The Emotional Rollercoaster


Founders need to be passionate about their business. But as a startup grows it can be difficult for entrepreneurs to separate passion from unhealthy emotional reactions. They’ve probably poured their heart and soul (and maybe money) into the venture. It’s their baby, and it’s personal. But if they take every up and down personally, they’ve bought a ticket on the emotional rollercoaster. And the results are going to make everyone nauseous.

I’ve witnessed the amusement park founder in action. On good days (e.g. glowing media coverage) he thought his team was invincible. On bad days (running out of money) he would scream in an employee’s face in front of everyone, ranting about their incompetence. Emotionally ill equipped, eventually he refused to give up control and the company went under.

It may require strategies to emotionally invest in longer term goals instead of daily wins and losses. But if leaders can keep the passion burning and stay off that rollercoaster, everyone can enjoy the ride.