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Founders should think of the business as yet another product they are building
This is the third and final post on the subject of the management team. The final phase of company development I am going to cover is "building the business." Building the business largely means building the management team. They are one and the same.
Many founders are naturally talented at building product and building the user base. But building the company comes harder to them. I once discussed this with Roelof Botha and he made a fantastic suggestion. Founders should think of the business as yet another product they are building. It is the penultimate product they are building because from the company can come any number of additional products and any number of additional initiatives.
The company, if built correctly, will be more important than any single product it can create. Think about Steve Jobs and all the amazing products he created. But Apple is the most important thing he created. So building the business requires a deep commitment from the founder. At the appropriate point, they must turn their attention to it and make it their top priority.
Let's quickly review the three stages so founders will know when they must turn their attention to building the company. The first stage is building the product. That is before product/market fit has been obtained. The second stage is building the user base. That is the period where you, either through organic growth or sales and marketing, build the user base to a level where you are certain you can build a long term sustainable business. Once you've built the user base to the point you know you can build a business, you enter the building the company stage.
As I said before building a company means building a management team. You start with a senior management team. You will need leaders for every part of the business. You will need a leader for your engineering team, you will need a leader for your product team, you will need a leader for your customer support/community team. You will need leaders for finance, marketing, sales, and business development. And to help you build and manage all of these people, you will need a experienced and talent HR leader.
Many founder/CEOs don't look for a partner to help them build the company. I think that is a mistake. The HR leader can be this person. But you need to recruit someone senior and experienced enough and make them an integral part of the senior team if you really want a partner to help build the company. I have also seen founder/CEOs recruit a strong number two, a President or COO, to help them with the company building piece. That can work too if the President or COO is a strong manager and team builder.
Companies are not people. But they are comprised of people. And the people side of the business is harder and way more complicated than building a product is. You have to start with culture, values, and a committment to creating a fantastic workplace. You can't fake these things. They have to come from the top. They are not bullshit. They are everything. There will be things that happen in the course of building a business that will challenge the belief in the leadership and the future of the company. If everyone is a mercenary and there is no shared culture and values, the team will blow apart. But if there is a meaningful culture that the entire team buys into, the team will stick together, double down, and get through those challenging situations.
Building a company is the most interesting work I know of. It is what every entrepreneur should set out to do. A company is a self sustaining entity that expresses the hopes, dreams, vision, values, and culture of the founder and leaders. It is an amazing thing and I have been blessed to watch a number of incredible companies be created.
Some startups won't reach this stage. That is the way it is. But for those that do reach this stage, I challenge all of you to step up to the work of company building with a passion and commitment for it. It will not be easy. It will be among the hardest things you will do. But the rewards are so great. Atoms and bits can be assembled to create fantastic things. But it is the things you build with people that are the most fulfilling of all.
(image source: hsmai.no)
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