top of page

Is Founder’s Syndrome Blocking Your Success?

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

How To Avoid Founder’s Syndrome Taking Down Your Success, article by Dr Nadine Greiner PhD

When I first set out to launch my executive coaching business I was, by no means, adequately prepared for the intensive journey that lay ahead of me. Though I had risen the ranks of a large corporation, eventually assuming the most senior leadership positions, I had little experience in building and operating a small business. I’d read scores of entrepreneurship and business books but none could sufficiently prepare me for life as a small business owner. I, like many small business owners, found myself inflicted with “Founderitis” (also known as "Founder’s Disease" or "Founder’s Syndrome").

Though there’s no coughing, sneezing, or raspy voices associated with the ailment, it’s a disease like any other and as such can impose much havoc.

Here are some tips on how to maneuver through founderitis to create a strong business foundation that generates success.

1. Learn to manage by KPIs

Far too many small business owners are driven by gut impulses and overlook the importance of establishing concrete business metrics as a means of monitoring progress. Research by Geckoboard found that nearly half of small and medium-sized business owners fail to identify a single key performance indicator (KPI)! Results can prove disastrous if you ignore the need for measurable results.

The process of starting a business is rife with uncertainty. KPIs allow you to analyze what is working and what is not and take corrective action more quickly. As management expert Peter Drucker famously noted, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. The most effective small business owners solidify KPIs in the very early days and enact solid processes so as to maximize their ability to achieve them. Geckoboard’s research revealed that the small and medium-sized business owners who do opt to track KPIs on a consistent basis are approximately twice as likely than others to hit their targets.

As a small business owner, it's critical that you hone in on the most important and relevant KPIs to measure, whether they be related to operations (e.g., staff turnover rate), financials (e.g., net profit), growth (e.g., sales growth rate), or customers (e.g., customer conversion rates). As an executive coach with a longstanding background as an executive leader, I have a unique system for helping my clients understand the mission-critical KPIs to focus on, especially in the initial stages of launching a business. As Richard Branson once acknowledged, “It's a common misconception that money is every entrepreneur's metric for success. It's not, and nor should it be.”

How To Avoid Founder’s Syndrome Taking Down Your Success, quote by Dr Nadine Greiner PhD

2. Shift to spend more time on strategy

As a small business owner, it’s easy to get lost in the here and now. With so much to do and so little time to accomplish it, it can be difficult to adopt a long-term perspective. Matthew Baker, Vice-President of Strategic Planning at FreshBooks explains, “Most people running a small business are consumed by the microscope. How do I deliver for my client today? Am I going to finish this project on time? Where will I find my next client? How are my financials doing right now?” Baker explains that most small business owners don’t "zoom out" in order to glean a more telescopic view of their business. They often experience impaired growth rates as a result.

The most effective small business owners recognize the importance of embracing a long-term perspective. They invest significant time in strategic planning. “If you don’t do long-range planning, you risk drifting off course”, explains Baker. An executive coach can go a long way in helping you adopt a long-term perspective that, in turn, allows you to maintain a healthy and sustainable work/life balance. My first-hand experience in launching my own company affords me a unique appreciation for the importance of balance.

3. Focus on quality, not quantity

Small business owners are resource-strapped and aren’t afforded the same liberties as large companies. They cannot afford to make thousands of sales calls each day. Their existence and longevity depend on the quality, rather than the quantity, of the service they provide. Anuja Lath, co-founder and CEO of RedAlkemi, explains, “When a business provides services and products where the prime focus is quality and not quantity, it is bound to make an imprint on the market...Real customers with a purpose and need for your products or services are the ones to target.”

As a small business owner, it’s imperative that you opt for quality over quantity. By focusing on providing superior customer service, you'll ensure that your customers become product advocates. Authentic, satisfied customers are more lucrative than any marketing campaign. According to research by McKinsey, word of mouth is the primary driver behind 20% to 50% of all purchasing decisions. As entrepreneur Jim Rohn (who is widely considered to be America's Foremost Business Philosopher) once acknowledged, “One customer well taken care of could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising.”

Starting a business is not for the faint at heart. As James Penney, founder and CEO of J.C. Penny, reminds us, “It is always the start that requires the greatest effort.” Founderitis is a very real affliction that strikes a large percentage of business owners. Common symptoms include a lack of respect for formalized KPI planning, short-term tunnel-vision, and an emphasis on quantity as opposed to quality. Fortunately, the disease is curable. I can personally attest to the fact that curing Founderitis is possible. And that a thriving small business with happy customers is within reach.


Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.

As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’.

Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at or by phone at (415) 861-8383.

bottom of page