Startup Advice

“Cry me a river”: Guy Kawasaki calls on Aussie startups to ‘get over’ tall poppy syndrome

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki. Source: Supplied.

Former Apple chief evangelist Guy Kawasaki says entrepreneurs should ‘get over’ tall poppy syndrome, and focus on running their businesses.

After two stints working with Steve Jobs at tech giant Apple, Kawasaki is now an advisor, speaker and brand ambassador, as well as chief evangelist at Aussie Unicorn Canva.

Speaking to StartupSmart at the first Asia Pacific StartupGrind conference in Melbourne last week, Kawasaki admitted he’s not embedded enough into the Australian startup ecosystem to have noticed the effects of tall poppy syndrome.

“But, let’s postulate that this happens … my question is, so what? It’s better than being a dead poppy,” he says.

Being torn down for being successful is “a high-quality problem to have”.

“Cry me a river,” he adds.

On the scale of challenges a founder faces, tall poppy syndrome is “right above choosing whether we should have free sushi or free pasta today”, he says.

“If you’re focused on the customer, you’re not worried about being the tall poppy, so get over it.”

A bigger problem startup founders are likely to face is that of burnout and exhaustion.

While he acknowledges “the right answer” is to try to prevent burnout, Kawasaki’s honest take is “burnout is inevitable”.

If founders accept burnout will happen at some point, they will be more prepared for it, he says.

“Just knowing that is helpful. You will burn out.

“The question is, can you push through and come back out the other side? And that’s what people should think about.”

And this advice doesn’t only apply to burnout. The path to success is never linear, Kawasaki says.

“You should be prepared for bumps and lumps and downturns, because this is not a fairy tale. It’s a difficult path you’ve chosen,” he warns.

“The challenge is to understand it’s not impossible to push through”, he says.

“Things do get better. In the darkest days, there will be some light.”

However, Kawasaki does have some practical advice for staving off the dark times.

“I’m all about creating great products, hiring people better than yourself, and going for it,” he says.

Firstly, startups should focus on developing their prototype, “not on the pitch”.

Second, founders should hire people “who are better at everything you do than yourself”.

“If you’re the chief executive, and you look around the room and you’re the best at every functional area, you’re a failure,” he says.

Finally it may seem obvious but Kawasaki stresses startups should focus on sales. Most problems will be averted if you’re selling your product or service.

“Sales fixes everything,” he says.

NOW READ: Aussies in the Valley: Coinbase product lead Reuben Bramanathan on why there are no tall poppies in San Francisco

NOW READ: Three questions Steve Jobs used to drive success

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart.

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