February 21, 2014

Business Yin and Yang: Startup Growth Is A Balancing Act


If you’ve spent any time in the startup world, you know that the energy surrounding startups can be very masculine. All companies have a balance of what is traditionally viewed as masculine or feminine energy, but in startups especially, the rapid growth and steep competition often bring out the masculine side.

However, for strong long-term growth and success, it’s important to keep the energy of your company in balance, and to recognize how that balance shifts over the course of the launch cycle. As your organization grows, it’s important not to forget the parts of running a business that have more feminine energy.

Think about the launch phase of a company.

You’re putting in long hours, sizing up the competition, traveling non-stop, and fundraising like crazy. In this phase of building a business, you’re talking about your work using the same language as Olympic snowboarders use to describe their runs– you’re crushing it, you’re killing it, and you’re ready to dominate. In this phase of startups, you might be really relating to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

That kind of warrior energy– competitive, aggressive, forceful, powerful– is often associated with the masculine side of life. It’s the kind of energy you use in a power yoga class, pushing your body, working your muscles, building your strength, pouring out sweat. That kind of drive, discipline, and raw determination is what it takes to start a company. It’s a necessary part of the business lifecycle, especially in the intense, competitive world of startups.

However, something happens as your company grows. Although it’s different for every organization, it’s often around the time your organization grows to 20 people.

That’s the moment your company shifts from being a team to a tribe.

Those roving warriors hunting down leads and gathering funding settle to grow their business. That rapid, emergent growth from early in the startup cycle gives way to finding strategies and solutions for sustainable growth and long-term success.


With a larger team the founders might need more help managing their people. As you settle in and grow, it’s time to start focusing on your company culture and how you can keep those 20 or so employees happy, productive, and energized. Those changes call for a skillset and mindset often associated with the feminine side of life– caring, nurturing, emotional, intuitive.

It’s a time to turn slightly more inward and be more reflective about your brand values, the direction you want to go, and how to cultivate your team and turn them into a family.

Think again of your yoga class, and the poses that let you stretch slowly or that you might hold for a long time to work muscles and tendons deep within your body. That’s the kind of energy you’re using in this phase of your company– the ones that let you soothe the aches and pains of rapid growth. After the stress and go-go-go of the launch phase, your team needs to regroup and recharge or they’ll burn out. This new emphasis on feminine energy doesn’t have to come at the expense of explosive growth. Just as every person has aspects of masculine and feminine energy within them, so every company has some of both.

The companies that are most successful are those that are human companies– companies that have a healthy balance of masculine and feminine, just like healthy individuals.

It’s easy to forget to come back into balance, but the businesses that last the longest and profit the most are often those that plan from the beginning how they will care for their culture. Just as snowboarder plans ahead for how to land a crushing half pipe run and glide easily to the finish line, so you can anticipate transitions in your organization. By including both masculine and feminine energy in your long-term launch plan and focusing on culture from the get-go, you’ll avoid some of the early pitfalls that have stopped startup momentum dead in their tracks.

We often forget to focus on the “soft stuff” in business.

That’s the personal connections, the honest conversations, the opportunities to be vulnerable and real with our partners. Living too long in pure masculine mode will wear you down and make it easy to flame out. For success in business, it’s crucial to know when to switch gears and own the transition from team to tribe, from crushing it to nurturing what you’ve worked so hard to build.

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