I’ve been extremely busy this week and as such, I missed a totally kick ass post over at seomoz which offered up some advice to people who are ceo’s of startup companies. I’m not saying I agree with the whole post, but a lot of the points were dead on and it was a fresh topic I was glad to see being brought to the table. Quicker than me, Andy was able to give more advice to startup ceo’s and his own opinions on some of Rand’s comments. Having some personal experience with this, I figured I’d throw in my two cents.
As most of you know, I went from bathrober with several remote employees to a full fledge real company (shut the hell up and be patient… that website isn’t a priority at the moment – it’s coming eventually) with offices and in house employees (though we kept the remotes on board) a while back.
Now I’ve been management before, but being a ceo, in this capacity (again, without the bathrobe) has been a hell of an experience.
Rand said: “My sometimes naive optimism has also been a great olive branch to making friends and connections in the industry, although I’ve occasionally been duped by a client who was never going to pay or given up valuable time trying to smooth thing over a non-issue.”
And I can say the same exact thing about being the opposite. I am definitely more on the cynical side. That said, I think what Rand may be seeing is the relationships and contacts his *honesty* has built. For him, that honesty results in being naive at times – for me, that honesty results in accidentally saying “shit” in the middle of a conference session. Our personalities are very different, but I think being yourself and confident in yourself is what gets you the contacts you want (and need) to survive as a ceo.
Rand said: “I’ve also found that personally, it’s easy to spot someone who’s just in the business for the money vs. those who really care and want something great for the industry. It might be the optimism speaking, but I feel that the latter group usually produces the brightest innovations (and eventually, profit, too).”
Andy said: “The urge to make a snarky reply is unbearable… Tropical… must… resist… impulse to… scratch itch… hippy jokes… overloading…”
I gotta agree with Andy here. I’m in this business because I love what I do and I’m good at it. That said, I get up and go to work everyday for my company, for myself, for my family… the industry is something I like to give back to when I can, but the money is what gets me out of bed every day. I don’t think that makes me less of a ceo. I think it makes me more willing to give up a good idea that isn’t profitable and stands to suck the life out of my business and my drive.
Rand said: “Not only have I made a few mistakes in hiring the wrong folks, I’ve also struggled to find the best fit for the talented people we do bring on board. I’m deeply envious of CEOs who can magically size up a person’s strengths and weaknesses and put them in a position to leverage the former and minimize the latter.”
I’ve made both of those mistakes, but have found that fixing them is key. If you hire the wrong person, let them go. If you hire a great person for the wrong position, move them into the right position and hire for their replacement in the wrong position. I think ignoring a mistake is more dangerous than making them.
Rand said: “This is probably my toughest issue. I’m great at telling people when they’ve done a good job, but awful at criticizing any effort. In order to overcome, I’ve started hiring only those folks who have a deep, internal need for perfectionism.”
Andy said: “Rand, where do you find these people with a deep need for perfectionism? I, ahem, haven’t found this trait much in our generation.”
Perfectionism is relative. Your perfectionism is not another’s and in my world, all of the work being pumped out of my office must meet my standards and not those self imposed by someone else. If all a person hears is how wonderful they’re doing, they may become complacent and constant complacency is a dangerous thing in a startup. Additionally, you rob them of the chance to have someone with much more experience and knowledge show them how they can do things better. That said, you can also be too negative… you need a balance… the balance – of not being *too* critical – is something I’ve slowly developed and continue to develop.
Rand said: “It’s a dictatorship. When tough decisions come up, they’re my responsibility. I’ve noticed that even with little things, when we take a company vote, dissent and discomfort abound.”
Andy said: “I’m impressed. Is the “team building” and “consensus” fad over yet? Good. You’re CEO for a reason: you have a higher batting average at decision-making.”
I take everyone’s opinions in… and sometimes someone has a great idea. No one needs to have any fear of bringing an idea to me or questioning how we do something in a constructive way. But at the end of the day, the decisions of what site to build, where to focus our priorities and every other decision is made by me. Not only do I have the “higher batting average” in making the right decisions about doing what we do, but in the end, I am responsible for not only my own personal financial success as the owner of the company, but also to make sure that those who depend on us for employment and mortgage payments can continue to do so.
Rand said: “Just because some skill, ability, or product got you where you are today doesn’t mean you should never give it up.”
In my honest opinion, being unable to grasp that concept is what will send a lot of ceo’s back to the corporate world as an employee down the road. Knowing when you need to change strategy and *doing it* is key.
Rand said: “Don’t ignore the power of others to do your work for you.”
This concept was one of the hardest for me to accept. Rand, those perfectionists you want to find – I’m one of them – and we have huge problems delegating because it means that not everything will be done exactly the way we would have done them – which would have been perfect. ;-) Delegating was the single hardest thing for me to learn to do… and there are still certain tasks I’ve yet to delegate… but I’m getting there.
Rand said: “I can remember dozens of times when I felt like the world was crashing down around me – that I could barely hold up another day.”
We’ve all had those days… and they suck. But they build character. That’s what all those tough life experiences so many parents try to shield their children from have prepared us for… the times when things aren’t always fair and shit feels like it’s crashing in on your head. You push through, you survive, you move on. There is and never will be another choice except failure.
Rand said: “That employee who’s struggled the last few months may indeed turn things around.”
Andy said: “Also: employees don’t generally “turn around”. Underperformers have no place in a company that’s not publically traded, so ditch them as soon as you know.”
I also have to agree with Andy on this one. There is no place in a startup for people who simply want to show up and collect a paycheck and people with that mindset rarely change it. They have to go the second you realize it. It is a tough thing to do… but, as we’ve already discussed, sometimes you have to make hard decisions for the good of yourself, the company and the people who depend on it.
Rand said: “If you have mediocre people doing mediocre work, that was your bad call at hiring time. Either way, taking responsibility and correcting course is required.”
That’s like saying someone should stay in a miserable or abusive marriage because they made the mistake of saying I do in the first place. If someone is harmful to you, you toss them. If someone is harmful to your company (and for a startup, every penny/second of time wasted counts) and the people who depend on it, you toss them too. That is what separates a ceo from a career counselor.
I don’t have all the answers… I’m still learning every day… but that is my input based on my own experiences thus far. I’m lucky to have a great business partner with much more experience at this than me to help me along and push me to get better each and every day in the aspect of being a ceo.
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight Eisenhower