In the years during my early start-ups, I was in search mode. I was searching for the brightest people that I could bring in, the best technology that could help me scale and the most ideal marketing avenues. It was all about leveraging limited capital as I bootstrapped and fishtailed my way through founding a company. Sometimes I got it right, but many times I got it wrong — and though it was often costly, it was when I got it wrong that I learned the most valuable lessons.
Over the past five months I’ve taken pause to uncover the experiences of other Founders. I began by asking the following questions:
· “Have things changed?”
· “What are a Founders most common pain points?”
· “Where do Founders go for input?”
The latter may seem intuitive as many Founders have a board or an investor or two. But the real magic happens in the conversations with trusted confidants who have been there done that, who have struggled, but aren’t afraid to reveal how they went about crafting solutions.
What I’ve learned from combining my own entrepreneurial experience, the past months of observation and countless offline, confidential discussions with Founders, is that there is a visible pattern among startups that are on the rise. There are a few common denominators that help to provide foundational clarity and a framework that positions organizations for growth and success. Call them entrepreneurial rules, tenets or business truths, when you’re trying to survive in an increasingly competitive market, it is incumbent on leaders to establish — and model for others — a strong foundation of:
1. Transparency, where individual-level customer service and performance metrics are visible and updated daily. (It’s clear who is leading and who needs to catch up.)
2. Regular — and frequent — acknowledgment of wins, where people are recognized and celebrated.
3. Accountability, where nothing slips, concerns are addressed and coaching is provided.
4. Unsurpassed service, where the deliverable exceeds expectations — and when there is a slip up, it is made it right.
5. Acknowledgment that struggle and setbacks are part of the process, where mistakes and failures are chances to learn, grow and begin again.
6. Recognition that people are the most valuable asset to the organization.
7. Culture, where founders take individual level responsibility and teams are empowered to lead from the edges in.
It’s the last two truths that I want to focus on here. When leaders acknowledge and celebrate their people, you can see it and you can feel it. As I toured startup spaces and dropped in on field teams, the positive attitudes and undercurrent of people truly enjoying what they do was palpable. In these environments, I could tell that while people took their work seriously, they also liked to have fun and knew that they were celebrated for their energy, passion and dedication. You can’t manufacture smiles like that.
Culture should begin with leadership. When this occurs, individual growth is celebrated — and individual success is team success. Founders who are true leaders don’t go at it alone. They walk the walk with their teams, knowing that everyone’s well-being is intertwined.
Throughout the past several months, I’ve been given the incredible opportunity to act as an advisor and confidant to various entrepreneurs and startup organizations. I’ve been with founders as they wrestle with the timing of a capital raise, debate their approach to scaling and consider how to build their executive teams. I have been inspired and energized by the experience, recalling and putting to work my own years of numerous ups and downs. At the end of the day, we have to remember that it’s about empowering others. It’s seeing the value in hardship and making good use of what we learn for the betterment of others. The organizations that work to incorporate the common denominators I mentioned above, don’t lose sight of “where it all began” and remember (always!) to pay it forward, will be the individuals, and the companies, that we won’t be able to stop talking about in years to come.