Perfectionism: your greatest ally or worst enemy when building your company?
It was late at night and my business partner and I were going through the design of our new website for the umpteenth time. We were going to go live the next day, so needless to say we were very excited. “Have we overlooked anything? Is that the right font in that paragraph there? Are we ready to launch? Is it perfect?” were just some of the questions I asked my co-founder.
We had almost driven our freelance designer up the wall with our demands for the website. She had wanted us to launch weeks ago, indicating the website was fine for the first test phase. We, as first-time entrepreneurs, of course didn’t agree. The website had to be perfect before we could launch it. Our (potential) customers would expect nothing less than that wouldn’t they? Isn’t this unrelenting drive for flawless excellence what every entrepreneur should strive for when building great companies? Or is the exact opposite the case, and is perfectionism keeping your company from achieving those great heights you dream of?
This first part of the blog series will discuss the above questions, while part 2 will dive deeper into the question as to whether perfectionism is an especially difficult trait to have as a female entrepreneur.
Let me start off by saying that perfectionism can at times serve as an accelerator and there is nothing wrong with having high standards and working towards perfection. After all, we all love having that beautifully designed smartphone that is so intuitive to use. Without the striving for perfection that smartphone may never have seen the light of day. But perfectionism can also hold you back, especially, I would say, in the first stages of building a business.
Perfectionism can cause you to set too high standards for yourself and the people working with or for you. Moreover, if your product has to be perfect before you can launch, the concept of a minimum viable product (MVP) will not appeal to you at all and compromise is likely not a word that you feel should be part of your vocabulary.
Having flawless excellence as your aim will cause you to waste precious time and opportunities and when you haven’t yet built a large team this is something you simply can’t afford. Just like me you will spend too much time and energy perfecting that first version of your product. Instead, you should launch before you even feel ready and try it out on your potential customers. That way you will get their feedback when you can still make changes and improve your product along the way.
And without compromise you won’t be able to adapt to changing circumstances. If 2020 has taught us one thing, it is that as an entrepreneur you need to be able to adapt to changing business realities. If as a restaurant owner your website was not able to process online orders pre-Covid-19, you certainly had to make the changes very quickly in order to survive a lockdown with restaurants only being able to do take away or delivery.
The above is a good example that perfectionism can also be an enemy once you have a more established business. This becomes even more interesting if we apply the Pareto principle to what we are doing. In a nutshell, the Pareto principle says that for any given activity, 80% of the results will come from 20% of your efforts. This means that 80% of your income will come from 20% of your customers. In terms of perfectionism the question therefore arises whether you are spending your time and energy on the right efforts or customers. With regard to the latter, your inner perfectionistic self may be saying that you should try to please all of your customers, but in actual fact it makes more sense to spend most of your time pleasing the top 20% of your customers.
If you know you have perfectionistic tendencies, you should often ask yourself whether the things you are doing really require perfection. Is it ok as it is, or should you perhaps be spending your time on something different altogether? Spending too much time on non-essential things will make you stressed and may drain you of much of your creative energy. Instead of spending your time on the non-essential, you would be better off doing nothing or something you enjoy like reading a good book or spending time with your kids (this may in turn make you reach your perfectionistic goals of being a good mother and a good entrepreneur, but more about that in part 2). Often the best business ideas will pop into your mind when you are not working.
Looking back, it is obvious our designer was right, we could have launched much earlier. For us at the time perfectionism was certainly an enemy rather than an ally. Thankfully, we learnt from that first time and when making the 2.0 version of our website we had our customers involved from the beginning. However, perfectionism is something I personally need to keep an eye on, especially when trying to be good at all my roles in life. But more about that in part 2.
If you’d like to read more about perfectionism in female entrepreneurs, here are some articles for you.
Part 2 of Emma’s series will be coming soon. In the meantime, if you didn’t catch our exclusive interview with co-founder of Specsavers, Mary Perkins, jump straight to episode 2 where she shares her thoughts on the all too familiar feminine trait of perfectionism.
More about Emma:
Emma is one of the founders of TRVLBEES, an online travel platform for families.
After 10 years of specialising in competition and regulatory law at Baker & McKenzie and advising clients about their business, Emma decided she wanted to start one herself. Before starting her company, she first gained some extra business knowledge by obtaining a joint executive MBA from IE Business School and Brown University.