How Founder’s Syndrome Derails Organizations: When The Vision Outgrows The Founders and original Managers

Anna-Lisa Natchev
5 min readJan 31, 2023

As a business grows and advances beyond its founders, the impact of Founder’s Syndrome can become distressingly clear. It can be challenging for those who invested their time in establishing something from the ground up to contemplate trying something new and acknowledging all that comes with this shift within an organization.

Too often, company leaders are brought on board due to familiarity, and the beliefs of what is successful or unsuccessful in a business environment are hastily imparted onto any new hire joining the team.

As a result, countless businesses need help to develop concise Go To Market plans and executable expansion strategies.

I often notice that many people wish to think innovatively and take on a growth-hacking approach, mimicking the efficient startup mentality. Nevertheless, when it comes to implementing reform, excuses and rejections tend to arise — people don’t want to accept the need for basic improvements before any investments in marketing will yield tangible returns.

Sales strategies require experimentation and testing to ensure they will be effective. Declarations like “We have tried it before, did not work” are enough to hinder potential growth opportunities since the actual value of marketing lies in attempting different messages on various channels with specific campaigns tailored towards particular ideal customer profiles (ICP).

Even the most ambitious founders and managers become hesitant when asked to try something that has already failed but with different messages, target customers, value propositions, tools, or people.

This is a complex request for entrepreneurs and executives who are used to taking risks; however, it could be rewarding if they vary their strategies until success is achieved.

Suppose you lack knowledge of the whole growth wheel, touchpoints, and how different activities interact with each other during a customer’s buying process. In that case, it is pretty easy to write off specific tactics as “not working” when there may be an issue, such as outdated landing pages or complicated free trials preventing conversions. Therefore, it is critical to analyze all elements at play for optimal results thoroughly.

Rectifying the initial impression is our only option to ensure we can reach maximum conversion rates. This strategy will ultimately lead to drastically different results for the same campaign run previously.

The best strategy for entrepreneurs open to growth and transformation is thinking based on data instead of relying on outdated management structures.

Despite a business’s best efforts, it is natural for them to experience bumps in the road as they expand. However, no difficulty may be more incredible than founder’s syndrome, an ailment that can have devastating effects on the trajectory of any organization.

Founder’s syndrome occurs when a strong-minded founder, who battled against the odds to build an organization, ends up becoming its biggest constraint to growth. This can happen for several reasons, but typically, the founders cannot let go of control or adjust their vision as the company grows.

If neglected, founder’s syndrome can quickly extinguish a company. That is why founders need to recognize the signs and symptoms of this condition early on and get support from reliable people in their circle if necessary. If not taken care of properly, they may put themselves at risk of ruining their success.

Founders' Syndrome can be tricky to address, as it often passes undetected until the business begins trying to scale up and acquire tangible success. At that point, it becomes a challenging obstacle that impedes sustainable growth for startups.

It’s a common issue when the founders become so attached to their vision that they won’t accept any constructive criticism, disregarding helpful advice that could help them build the best product possible and go to market plan that can be driven in a lean and measurable way.

This unwillingness to grow and improve can impede progress and hinder success.

Even though it may lead to hurt feelings, leaders serious about eradicating Founders Syndrome must be willing to provide honest feedback for the business to scale up and become successful.

This requires boldness from the leadership and advisors/fractional executives; only then can startups reach their full potential as thriving businesses.

One sure way to mitigate this problem is by offering harsh yet candid feedback that could occasionally cause distress for the company leader but be well worth it.

Businesses need to take proactive steps toward acknowledging and analyzing this phenomenon rather than disregarding it.

Doing so can reduce any potential impacts that it might have on their startup or scaleup journey.

The Constraints of Growth

Expansion can be both a blessing and a curse. Founders and original managers of startups are constantly pushing their boundaries to stay ahead of the competition, striving for maximum performance. However, with such rapid growth comes unique challenges that must be addressed to ensure success.

Unfortunately, passionate founders can be hindered by founder’s syndrome; their success is tied so closely to the leader’s vision that it halts further growth.

If startup founders wish to break away from this syndrome, a thorough assessment of their skill set is necessary.

Additionally, releasing control over certain areas that are not in the absolute power of the founder and incorporating lean enterprise principles will allow for sustainable growth and keep the founder’s syndrome from becoming an overwhelming obstruction to success.

The Solution to Founder’s Syndrome

To tackle Founder’s Syndrome, radical honesty is essential — startup executives must be honest with themselves and recognize when their ideas have become too much for them alone. It requires humility to admit that they are not equipped enough to take the company further without guidance, yet this will allow the business to advance.

It takes a courageous leader to embrace their vulnerability and mistakes, but this is the only approach for any startup that doesn’t want to be limited by its founder’s shortcomings. To prevent “founder’s syndrome,” legitimate change must happen at all levels — including the structure of the business and its employees. Honest feedback should be shared freely, while vital advice should be taken to cultivate real startup growth without ego-oriented interference.

Often, entrepreneurs become so entrenched in their single-minded plans that they need to recognize other potential roads to success.

This stubbornness can lead to rigidity and an inability to change direction, even when it becomes evident that the current strategy is not yielding success.

As a result, the company needs to reach its full potential and may eventually flounder and fail.

If you find yourself in this position, it’s important to get honest feedback from people who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

It might be painful, but it could be the difference between having a successful startup or scaleup — and watching your company slowly die because of your rigidity.

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Anna-Lisa Natchev

SaaS Growth Navigator ,also sharing insights into reaching happiness from the Happiest people in the world...