Every day at a startup founders makes a series of decisions. It’s a constant application of urgent-important matrix all day. Startups are exciting and energy consuming exactly for this reason: you are at a fork all the time. Honestly, much of the decisions are gut-driven. There is data, there are mentors and there are board members, yet there has to be one final call which needs to be taken, quickly. The one attribute in startup founders that’s critical to navigating these forks is courage. It’s the courage to take a decision, to turn the decisions into a right call, to accept the mistakes, learn from them and move on.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Courage (noun): mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
I’ve built a company, hired great talent, developed a product, acquired customers, closed a financing round and even got acquired. I consider myself lucky that I got to work closely with great entrepreneurs and leaders in my career. I’m on my second startup journey now.
And as I go through this journey once again it gets clearer and clearer to me that the most important trait in startup founders is courage.
Courage is the source of all that’s happening and going to happen in a startup. It is critical in every stage not just in the early stage (even the decision to get acquired!)
In this series of notes, I want to share my lessons on early days of startup life around People, Product, Process and more. Early days of a startup is when we tend to procrastinate a lot of decision making. We get distracted by tons of activities, are overwhelmed with many inputs and get pulled in all directions. That’s the stage when we need to rely on the most important tool in our bag: COURAGE.
Everything in the early stage is difficult and unpredictable, especially building the founding team. Product is hard, building a team is harder. With team, you fear running out of money as the cash burn accelerates with hiring. The most courageous thing to do in the early stage is to find the right partners and to do the right hires.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt
The right partner as in co-founder/s come in all flavors, either they complement on skill and ability, or temperament and leadership. Trust is the glue that binds co-founders and to trust is to have courage. Second, guessing your co-founder on key decisions or not setting the right equity for the co-founder are all indications of lack of trust. In many cases is a symptom of lack of courage in making the call: do you believe in your co-founder to do the right thing?
First hires become extensions of our family, they are the founding team. They enter your inner circle for they become the foundation of your company’s culture. The most common mistake founders do is to postpone the decision of hiring the right talent and instead cut corners, getting by with interns or outsourcing. Hiring if any is done by on-boarding the familiar thus compromising on the diversity of skills and ability which is such a key ingredient in early day success. Hiring is a commitment. Founders need to spend lots of time upfront in attracting the right kind of talent, selecting them, onboarding them and then nurturing them. Early stage hiring cannot be a cookie cutter talent hunt. It’s not the right approach for a startup which is trying to solve problems in unique ways. It’s a bet the founders have to make and it takes courage.
In the last one year, co-founder Sameer and I, have built a place for our people where they can learn, train, evolve and bring to life a product that will change the way people sell. Rarely, does one get to be a part of product-market fit stage or even at a large company but the talent that I am in the lookout for will get a chance to be the part of the most awesome phase of any startup journey. If this is a journey you want to go through, you can join a start up.