Week 5: We All Have a Role to Play

As we discussed in week 4, building a team is one of the more critical responsibilities of the founder. This week, we explore some of the challenges associated with matching the right people with the right roles. The Founder’s Dilemmas (Wasserman) points out some of the critical decisions that founders must address when deciding on executive roles. Of particular importance is the selection of the founding CEO, which is the focus of Part 1. Then, in Part 2, we will explore finding hidden talent and hiring for attitude and training for skill.

Part 1: The Role of CEO

The CEO is the top of the pyramid, meaning that final decision-making authority rests on his or her shoulders. As one of the founders, you should have an honest conversation with yourself if this is something you really want be to be responsible for (and if you can see your great idea through without that power). Some founders are great with ideas and specific technical or functional expertise required to bring a new idea to market, but don’t want the responsibility of making the tough calls when there’s disagreement among the c-suite executives.

The first CEO must be visionary in chief, working with the other founders to hone the direction of the company. This requires that he or she be what Wasserman refers to as an “idea person”, which his research shows is more likely of the CEO and usually corresponds to higher stakes in the company.

Part of that visionary role is demonstrating outstanding communication skills. He or she must communicate the vision to new hires, investors, and the public in a way that wins hearts, minds and dollars. Each of the people added to the team after the founders must understand what the bigger purpose of the organization is and how their role contributes. They must want to give their all for it, so a great communicator will help maximize their contribution. The first CEO will play a critical role in telling the story of the company to new investors, so the ability to connect with them and encourage their participation will be particularly important early on in the life of the organization.

In his Forbes article “How to Become a CEO” Christian Stadler mentions listening skills among those communication skills most important to achieve and succeed at the top job. It helps when you are responsible for the final decision if you are able to fully leverage the knowledge and experience of those around you.

Beyond these skills, the founding CEO must also be someone who has great passion for the company and its future. He or she will likely be making many personal sacrifices initially for the good of the company, so entering the job fully committed is essential. Often the first sacrifice is a willingness to give the company his or her full attention and leave the security of a full-time job to focus on the business full-time. This level of risk must be fueled by a confidence that the investment will pay off.

The top job isn’t for every founder. Choosing the right member of the founding team to assume the top job can go a long way to ensuring the long-term success of the company. Think hard as you consider the job for yourself…it is a demanding role that will call upon your skills as visionary, decision-maker and communicator for the company to succeed.

Part 2: Hire for Attitude and Train for Skill

Bill Taylor’s Harvard Business Review article “Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill” points out that hiring people with the right attitude can help differentiate your company among competitors. The assumption that hiring someone that already knows how to do a job is better than hiring someone you need to train on the surface looks like a no brainer. When you look closer, you might realize that with experience comes bias regarding “the right way” to do things. The industry standard approach may be the opposite of what your startup is going for when seeking to reinvent the experience a customer can expect.

Hiring for attitude also creates an opportunity to identify diamonds in the rough in the hidden talent pool. Herrenkohl’s How to Hire A Players suggests looking for those looking to reenter the workforce, those looking to exit corporate environments seeking more flexibility, and great people in service roles or jobs that are demanding and undercompensated who would be eager to find a place that values their hard work and great attitude.

If you are willing to think outside of the box when making your next hire, you might consider hiring someone with the right attitude and teach them what they need to succeed. This helps maximize work ethic and fit with the organization, and minimizes the challenges associated with approaching a job in the same boring way it has always been done when creating something new and different.

Week 4: Building Teams

Building a solid and productive team is one of the most critical roles of a startup’s founder. Wasserman’s The Founder’s Dilemmas points out some of the benefits and risks associated with assembling a team that is very homogeneous versus one that is more diverse. Here is a quick summary of many of those points:

Homogeneous  Teams

  • Short-term benefits include ease of finding people, speed of decision making, quicker to develop productive working relationships, easier construction of shared organizational identity, and less risk of conflict.
  • Longer-term risks include overlapping human capital resulting in overlapping strengths and gaps in expertise. There is potential for a shortage of creativity, greater difficulty in times of turbulence, stunted growth when friendship supersedes the best interest of the business, and a narrower network for identifying investors and employees.

Diversity and Counterbalance

Even more important might be the likelihood that homogeneous teams tend to have similar tolerance for risk and share similar values. This can make for a more stable partnership, but could also mean that there is no counterbalance if the team is too risky or too risk adverse. They may share priorities and preferences, but might struggle to counterbalance each other when their shared preferences are not in the best interest of the long-term success of the company.

Hiring a Great Team: A Competitive Advantage

Harrenkohl’s How to Hire A-Players  points out that having an incredible team of high performers can be a significant competitive advantage to the organization. He points out that your business should have the leadership to continue on without you, so it is essential to have the right people in place and to give them the autonomy and authority to do great work. This requires, as we have discussed in previous posts, that the founder must be willing to give up decision-making control and resist the urge to micromanage.

Hiring great people attracts other great talent and creates a virtuous cycle of success. Not only are current people more likely to be retained when they are surrounded by excellence, but they are likely to continue to be engaged and perform at the highest level themselves. This positions everyone for the opportunity to advance their careers as the company grows and thrives.

Selfishly, as the founder it is in your best interest to hire great people even though it means yielding some of your control. Doing so will allow you to have more balance in your own life, as the company’s growth becomes a shared goal and not one that you alone must realize.

 

Week 3: Building Social and Financial Capital

One of the great benefits of living and working in one town for most of your adult life is that you have the opportunity to develop a strong social network. I do feel confident in this area, as I have worked hard to develop a reputation where people trust me and my work. I have had the opportunity through several volunteer experiences to make connections with people with significant fundraising and nonprofit experience, so I feel like I have a deep well of expertise that I can call upon. I’ve also worked closely with many business leaders in my roles with local universities, so the range of consultants (and potential volunteers) I can call upon is pretty wide.

One area I have not spent a lot of time yet is developing my network in the human services community currently working on the hunger needs of my city. I’ll definitely need their support and guidance, both to minimize the duplication of efforts and to maximize the impact of the work. It would also be important to ensure that those doing the work now don’t have any impression that I’m looking to compete or “steal business” from them. There is plenty of unmet need and never enough resources. My hope is that the food truck will be seen as additive and a partner in this work.

In terms of financial capital, I’m fortunate that I have a runway before this business can launch since I’m waiting for my father to retire. This time represents my window to get organized and save/raise the necessary funds to start operations. Initial startup expenses are mostly centralized in the truck itself. The goal is to purchase it with cash, to ensure expenses are very low. Since dad will be retired, labor costs are flexible. I do want him to be paid, but he insists that while things get going this is not important. Eventually, he’ll also need the help of a sous chef to minimize the burden of preparation. This will be a great learning opportunity for a culinary student completing a required internship for their degree program. Volunteers can also be helpful with this kind of work.

My intent is not for this to be a full-time endeavor for me or my dad, so the decision whether to leave full-time employment is not the same as it is for many new entrepreneurs. If the response to the food truck is good, it would be more likely that we’d have to hire a second chef before we’d need a large, full-time administrative team. If the idea took off, and we were able to launch in multiple cities that would be a very different kind of organization that would require a lot more attention. This is probably the scale that would be required for me to leave my full-time job to focus on the organization as my primary work.

Week 2: Maximizing Wealth vs. Maintaining Control

Wasserman’s (2012) The Founder’s Dilemmas describe difficult decisions that founders must make that can have a lasting impact on both the founder and their startup. What’s more, most founders often do not recognize the options they might consider or the impact of avoiding tough decisions early in the life of their business.

Wasserman describes the wealth versus control dilemma as “the most common and difficult of them all.” On the surface, they might appear to be complimentary, but in fact they are in constant tension with each other. This counter-intuitive relationship is the result of the need for human, intellectual, and financial resources to get the business off the ground. To land the best talent, ideas, and money it is often essential to offer investors equity. This means that they share ownership, some of the risk, some of the potential reward, and voice in decision-making. The author emphasizes that it is imperative that the founder be conscious of his or her own motivation, allowing decisions to be intentional and consistent with that driving goal.

It will be very interesting to see how this dilemma develops for my own business, as the motivation is neither profitability nor control. Intellectually, for me, starting this organization is about maximizing impact. In my head I feel like if someone else has the time, passion, and energy to devote to the cause I will be happy to yield (or at least share) control. As I really reflect on this honestly, however, I think that when making decisions I would probably lean more toward control because my vision for the organization is fairly limited. I can understand how the push-pull of this dilemma can be challenging for other entrepreneurs as I review the various dynamics involved. Making the choice to limit the scope of the organization is in effect choosing control. If the need is greater and the resources are available for the taking, this choice would be the only reason not to scale up the operation to maximize the impact.

One challenge, that I can imagine being similar for others, is that I imagine this operation as a family effort. There are certainly ways to engage other organizations to maximize donations and volunteers, but doing so would mean that they would dictate some of the terms of use. On the surface, this seems absolutely fine…but the added complexity and unforeseen challenges must be expected and planned for.

An area where I may veer more toward the maximizing wealth orientation is my desire to involve smart people and a willingness to accept outside advice. As someone who has always worked on high performing teams, I feel in no way as the source of all good ideas and decisions. I am happy to delegate and support those who assume responsibility in whatever way they need to perform at their best.

I strongly identified with the desire for slow growth and he feeling that we are well equipped to launch and build without a lot of outside help. My dad is an expert chef and has been operating a mobile catering business for 15 years. This expertise serves as both motivation and a foundation for the success of our project.