4 Lessons learned about growing and scaling your startup
Perfectionism, attention to detail, competitiveness and a joy for your craft, these are the traits that I have seen over the years in some of the best designers and software developers. These are also personality traits that have controlled my life for a very long time and certainly helped propel me to start my company and launch products that engage and delight end users.
These same traits can be a burden when you are the owner of the business and your goal is to scale yourself through hiring others.
In this post, I’d like to address this challenge and some of the things that helped me relinquish control without losing control.
ONE: I’ll just do it myself
In one of my first experiences as a design manager, I made a ton of mistakes. One of them, not only prevented me from scaling my team, it also destroyed morale. Most folks when entering the work force post-college come from an environment that focused on the individual. In art school, it’s all about MY portfolio. In a liberal arts college, it’s all about MY grades. In a code school, it’s all about MY software demo. There is a serious lack of collaborative projects that mimic what happens in the real world.
My brain was still wired this way even as I became a design director of a 20-person team. I would try and communicate exactly how I would do something, and when the team member would come up short, I would simply redo their work myself after hours. My goal of perfectionism was so strong that it got in the way of team building and coaching which are so important in growing a business. The negative consequences of this were huge. It hurt the culture and had an impact on retention. Very bad things.
I learned that I needed to change my reward system. I needed to help my team members to perform at their best, not mine. I needed to see them take their skills to another level and then take pride in their accomplishment.
TWO: I’ll earn more if I do it myself
This is a common mistake, especially amongst professional services businesses. The concept being, if I hire and pay more people, the less money I will have for the bottom line. The problem with this is that an individual can only work so many hours. If the desire is to create a company, and not just be a glorified contractor, this will require a mechanism to scale revenues and the only way to do that in a services business is through increasing the number of hours and that can only be done through others.
This will also allow the business owner extra time to support the business itself. Being the head of a company involves way more than simply doing all the work yourself.
THREE: The 85% Rule
This item really focuses on the perfectionism and the control freak gene. I hear it from business owners all the time; they say things like, “No, I have to be part of all those client calls because the team needs my help.”. . . and things like, “I really don’t want anyone else doing our accounting besides me. They wouldn’t know how I want things done.” To me these things stem from wanting control and being able to make sure things are done perfectly. This will absolutely not allow you to grow your business.
I have found that I needed to delegate these things that I was holding on to, hire the right people to do the job and then be OK if they get to 85% of my version of perfect.
As soon as you do this, and realize you now have more time to focus ON your business instead of IN it, the dividends will be huge, and you will be ecstatic with 85% perfection.
FOUR: Be the Coach, not the Quarterback
So many companies, like ours, are founded by the individual who had risen to the level of rock star designer or coder. They are put into a position where the demand for their services is very high. You can create a small company where you continue to be the quarterback and supplement with other team members, but you will never grow substantially until you become the coach, not the quarterback.
This is a philosophy that permeates almost every conversation I have with my Vistage CEO group members and chair. Through my Vistage group membership, I have been challenged, mentored and driven to make sure I have the right people on board, and I am delegating appropriately so that I am in the coach’s position.
I would encourage anyone who truly wants to grow their business to take a look at joining a CEO group like mine, as it is a great way to gain outside perspective from other seasoned professionals.
So there you have it, 4 lessons I have learned over the years. I hope that I have provided a short cut for anyone out there who is on a similar path.
So glad to see you have made such a success. I always thought you were outstanding in your work.
Thanks so much Robert!
I felt as if I was on the same page of your thoughts Jody, being the owner of a similar company.
As time goes by my partner and I could see how the leaders took more responsibilities and allowed us to work on strategic goals.
We need to understand how to make a company bigger than our shoulders.
Thanks for sharing.