Diagnosing and Treating Shiny Object Syndrome

By David Frankel, Managing Partner at Founder Collective and on the board and/or first check into @pillpack , @seatgeek , @olo , @coupang, and many more.

🥱Do you have a profitable startup but are losing interest?

🤩Are you constantly distracted by new technologies and markets?

🤒You might be suffering from Shiny Object Syndrome!!

💊How to diagnose & treat this malady:

The key symptom of Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS) is a desire to shift investment away from the profitable core of a business towards a high-variability hypothesis. E.g. instead of trying to grow $1M in profits into $5M, you seek out low-probability bets with $20M+ potential.

This is a fine exercise at the start of a venture! Experimenting with products and models is the hallmark of seed-stage startups. But when you’ve actually uncovered a profitable line of business, your best bet is almost always to try and grow that as fast as possible.

Imagine being a prospector and finding a vein of gold. Would you be better served setting up a mine to harvest that mother lode or set out looking for another vein? It may be boring, dirty, and dangerous work, but building on your success is almost always the right choice.

This can be a tough pill to swallow.

Entrepreneurs are temperamentally more likely to be distracted by new technologies and opportunities than peers who take jobs at Google. However, at some stage, entrepreneurs need to also think about being executives. This means focus.

How do you treat Shiny Object Syndrome?

Make the decision to dedicate yourself to the parts that are working. If the lives of your family depended on it, you could likely double or triple your existing revenue. Approach your startup with that mindset.

If you’re profitable — and bored — hire some people who are still hungry. A few new hires with fire in their bellies might change the dynamic and reignite the passion of the broader team.

Look for new, stimulating challenges within the context of your business. For example, perhaps the prospect of building more SEO functionality bores you to tears but focusing on developing a world-class organization is a stimulating challenge.

Building startups is a slow process. It’s not nearly the non-stop fun it seems when reading the biographies of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and other high-profile outliers. And I promise you, even in those businesses the founders have a plateful of work they’d rather not do.

A lot of startup life is getting good at lead gen for life insurance companies, figuring out how to tap the revenue streams in the flooring industry and other unglamorous tasks. There is no shortcut, no workaround, or shiny object that can save you from this stark reality.

And failure to treat Shiny Object Syndrome can be fatal! By ignoring your core business you invite in the competition. Leave the product untended long enough and you may simply no longer have the resources to indulge in these experiments.

The best cure for Shiny Object Syndrome is sparking growth in your core business. And once you double your growth a couple of times, you may be surprised by the new opportunities that arise! Don’t give up on what’s working prematurely.

Want to pitch us? Reach out at Contact@FounderCollective or follow us on Twitter @fcollective.

Our mission is to be the most aligned VC for founders at seed. #ProudInvestor in @Uber @TheTradeDeskinc @Buzzfeed @Cruise @Diaandco @PillPack @SeatGeek & more.

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