We could spout all the cliches about how “what got you here won’t get you there” as you grow a business or how lonely it can be at the top, but really we want to focus on actionable advice that will help you, as a founder decide where and how to spend your time in order to best serve your business and your team as well as preserve your sanity!
Ali Rowghani, a partner in the very well known startup accelerator Y-Combinator says “a CEO’s first job is to build a product users love; the second job is to build a company to maximize the opportunity that the product has surfaced, and the third is to harvest the profits of the core business to invest in transformative new product ideas.”
For the purpose of this post, we’re focusing on building a company to maximize an opportunity. In the early stages of your business (aka up until now) you’ve probably been running around like crazy. Working hands-on in the business while trying to raise a round to extend your runway and probably making some hires along the way.
In an interview with First Round Capital, Warren Lebovics, co-founder of Pequity, unpacks a critical difference between large and small companies. “At larger companies, one of the most difficult parts of your job is to move projects forward through a series of approvals. At startups, one of the most difficult parts of your job will be to help slow things down enough to ensure you're being thoughtful about projects flying out the door. So, while “move fast and break things” might be a great mantra for your team, you, as the leader want to ensure that you’re giving them space to pause and asking the big questions to ensure things are moving forward in the right direction.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Hire a great team, and give them the infrastructure needed to maximize the opportunity. Another piece of advice Ali Rowagani shares that It may seem impossible at first, but you can eventually delegate day-to-day responsibility for everything you did in the first phase of your business, even product. You obviously can’t drop everything overnight, but your job is to replace yourself by hiring people better than you into leadership positions.
So, what should you be doing as a founder?
- Building your leadership team
By now, you probably already know that who you surround yourself with has a direct impact on your entire worldview. It can impact your mood, your risk tolerance, and even your business outcomes. These are all important factors to consider when picking both your board of directors and your leadership team. You want people who understand the business and your vision and will both support you and challenge you. Your time is best spent finding and developing this group of people. If you’re still handling sales, marketing, and all of the legal documents it is hard to give this monumental task the time and space it deserves.
If you don’t believe how critically important the right team is to your business success, consider that in November 2017, CB insights posted a comprehensive analysis of why startups fail. The third on the list of reasons is not having the right team.
Not only is it important to find the right people for each of the roles in your leadership team, but you also want to make sure they perform well together. This can be a challenge when you bring together a diverse group of experienced leaders. Remembering that interpersonal relationships among your team are critically important, offer opportunities to collaborate and build rapport amongst the leadership team. As the world is increasingly remote, consider all of your options including some in-person time for the team when it is safe to do so.
In order for you to be able to coach, support, and make the right decisions for the future, you need to have the right information from your team. Instead of digging for information yourself, you want to enable those around you to bring you what you need to make a decision. That means having people who can set up systems and processes to collect the right data from the right sources and analyze it. You should be able to read through a brief or have a short discussion with enough information to make an informed decision. While many startups adopt the philosophy of failing fast, we think you should go one step further and fail fast by making informed decisions about your ‘failure’.
Strategy and Planning - Charting your company’s course for the future
As the leader, you will be responsible for keeping the company moving forward. If you’re too buried in the day-to-day, it will be impossible to keep working on the vision and the bigger picture. This is why building out your leadership team and pulling yourself out of some of the work you did to get the company to this point is so important.
You’ll be working with your team on things like the branding, deciding which markets and verticals to enter or exit, and when/if you need to pivot. Having a team that can help you expand your perspective on these issues will be important. You don’t want a team of yes men. While the final decisions may be ultimately yours, you want to have input from people with the right levels of information and experience to help you make the most informed decisions.
Running a growing organization is a huge job. Making the time for deep thought, conversation, and even some research should be one of your top priorities.
Nurturing the company’s culture
The legendary management consultant, Peter Drucker once famously said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. While you shouldn’t take this to mean having a solid strategy isn’t important, you should use it to consider the power of your organizational culture.
Look at companies that are famous for their cultures: Google, Netflix, Zappos, or even infamous like Tinder and Away. What can you learn from what they value, how they communicate it and what you want your business to ultimately look like?
As the leader of the organization, it is your responsibility to enforce the culture - no matter how strong your HR and people operations leaders are. You want to be a role model for how you want your team to feel and act.
If you work 24/7 and tolerate screaming, berating, or other inappropriate office behavior - that will for better or worse become a part of your culture. In an interview with First Round Capital, Plaid’s Head of People, McKenna Quint says “Make sure you see your personal values reflected in the values of the company.” She further explains, “Plaid has a principle ‘embrace openness and positivity’ and that principle is a direct quote from our founder and CEO and reflects what he wants our company to look like. That really resonates with me and reflects the kind of company culture I want to build.”
Overpass is here to support you in this journey
As building a company can take time and space, these changes won’t happen overnight. Mature company culture can take months or years to fully develop. At Overpass, we have the infrastructure and talent to help companies grow. Whether you want to test some early campaigns to see if you can start to build traction or need additional support to help an overburdened sales lead or small team, we’re here to help.