Those who grew up vacationing at the beach, know the feeling.

You are chest deep in the ocean. Feet planted in the sandy bottom. Then, you wade out a tiny bit farther. All of a sudden, you can’t touch the bottom and have no idea how deep the water is. Is it inches? Or did I just walk off an underwater cliff?

Regardless, you’ve lost your footing. And it feels unnerving.

You get this sensation working in startups too.

You’ll get focused on a set of problems and make progress. Things start to feel ‘under control’. Your feet touch the sand. You feel grounded.

Then a few months (or weeks) pass. Things that weren’t problems suddenly are. You start to feel things unraveling. Why does everything now seem broken? You’ve lost your footing.

Strangely, this is typically a sign of growth, not failure.

You’ve outgrown the old problems, and grown into new ones.

Here are 3 examples:

Rapid hiring — You’re no longer under-resourced (old problem), but now you’re struggling with communication, role ambiguity, and team coordination (new problem).

Customer growth — You’re no longer trying to land your first few customers (old problem), but now we’re trying to scale internally to sell and service 30 or 100 or 1000 customers (new problem).

Product lifecycle — You finally got that new feature shipped (old problem), but now you need to make it work across a portfolio of customers (new problem).

Moral of the story: If you start feeling “off balance” or you’ve “lost your footing”, it’s probably just growth, not failure. The old problems are mostly solved, and a new batch of challenges are ready for your attention.

Identify the new challenges. Set a course to solve them. And you’ll start feeling more grounded and more productive.

Articles for Startup Product Leaders
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