Many start-up founders are fond of referring to their company as their baby. This recently led to an interesting discussion with the founder of one of our portfolio companies that may resonate with our readers.
The analogy he drew was that as the de-facto “parent” of his baby, his start-up, he was logically the most concerned about its health and well-being. Like a good parent he had willingly put in the time and effort over the initial days to teach it the basics like walking and talking – getting it off the ground as it were. He saw as a key part of his responsibility the need to instil a set of values that he himself believed in as the core value system of the start-up that would survive over time. Since he was so intimately familiar with its every beat he felt that he knew instinctively when something was not quite right or even when something bad was about to happen and in many cases he felt he knew what had to be done to address such an eventuality. That being said like any responsible parent there came a time in the life span of the baby when it was clear for the baby to grow, learn more an eventually prosper it would have to step out of the protected environment provided by the founder.
The case being made is that in the initial days the founder (or founders) can be everything the start-up needs but at this stage the start-up has to make the trip to school to learn from the teachers there who are specially trained to take the abilities and knowledge of the baby to the next level. The parents cannot substitute for the school and the teachers in the long term interest of the start-up. This is even more the case when the baby is ill – the parent might well be the most emotionally invested in the health of the baby and be the most affected by its suffering but beyond a point the very survival of the baby will depend on getting into the care of a pediatrician who is specifically qualified to treat it. In such a situation all the care and attention the parents can give will pale compared to the expertise in saving lives the doctor possesses. However well-intentioned, educated, caring and mature the parents may be they have to recognize that a stage will come when they have to turn their baby over to the care of specialists.
The founder’s role is to recognize when this stage in the life of the start-up comes around and to then transition into managing the overall direction of the business, its culture, adherence to values, strategic goals and so on. The day to day operations of the company is then best handled by the specialists – the HR, Finance, Sales and Operations professionals who will have to be brought in then. We have written in the past how a start-up, even with a limited hiring budget, can have access to the specialist expertise it needs in a previous post. It is key for a founder to understand where his or her own limitations lie in order to prevent those becoming the long term limitations of the start-up as well.
Isaac Newton is reputed to have said “If I have seen further than others it’s only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” That’s as good a case as any for getting specialists in to help your start-up go even higher – after-all if it’s good enough for Isaac Newton it should be good enough for us!