When starting a new business, an entrepreneur has to take a “hands-on” role. Because there are so many unknowns, and things are happening so fast, this is no time to delegate or hire outside consultants to handle core functions. That fact eludes most executives from mature companies who have long depended on their staffs for real work, while their focus stays on strategy.
Thus I don’t see many startups run in absentia or by big company executives. Startup founders need to see, touch and feel all the key elements of a new business as it evolves, much like an artist renders a new painting or sculpture. Once the outline and core of a new sculpture is complete, assistants and experts can step in, even under contract, to finish the piece.
In the context of a startup, there are many “hands-on” attributes that every entrepreneur must demonstrate and enjoy if he or she hopes to succeed in building a new business. In my experience, these include the following:
Be recognized for innovative actions as well as ideas. The best startup founders are ready and able to roll up their sleeves and jump into any issue and contribute, whether it's business related or technical, no matter how much expertise team members may possess. The best founders know how to pull the best out of others.
Communicate a clear vision, as well as a path to the destination. This means a founder needs the ability to attract the right people to a team and motivate them. Then the vision must be translated into a set of tasks to match the skills of the people who can make the vision real. The founder needs to be a mentor and advisor, as well as a leader.
Capitalize on relationships inside and outside the company. Startup founders who are lone rangers or autocrats usually burn out or make big mistakes. The ability to nurture relationships, and know when and how to use them, is paramount to success. Relationships only work if they are win-win, so understanding constituent needs is key.
Track and measure both long-term and short-term objectives. Translating vision into a plan, milestones and metrics is a key responsibility of every entrepreneur. All of these must be updated at least quarterly, based on feedback and results from customers, and communicated to the team on a regular basis.
Able to adapt or pivot the business to respond to the market. Every startup I'm aware of has had to pivot, no matter how elegant the initial plan. Did you know that both Facebook and YouTube started out as dating sites? Founders who are close enough to the front lines are required to listen to market feedback and be savvy enough to respond.
Provide constructive feedback and growth opportunities for the team. Individual team member reviews cannot be delegated or moved to the bottom of your priority list. Founders who are consistent and predictable in managing accountability across the team, including hiring and firing, consistently generate the most loyalty and results.
Accept accountability for all decisions, with no excuses. The best entrepreneurs give everyone around them credit for the successes, and take full responsibility for all the failures. They learn to delegate effectively, hire people smarter than they are, and put processes in place so that the business is able to run independently of their presence.
The best startup founders actually relish their “hands-on” role in building and selling their solutions, but don’t back away from the business decisions and administrative responsibilities either. They enjoy the camaraderie of the team, but are normally tough taskmasters. They build relationships that often last a lifetime, even with competitors and investors.
Running a startup can be an intense and stressful experience, so rolling up your sleeves should be seen as a way to diffuse the pressure, build your skills and avoid the loneliness at the top. Investors and major customers are quick to spot and support the startup founder who is clearly working in and on the business and having fun at the same time. Do you fit that mold?
*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 8/12/2015 ***