Most companies require 10-15 years to get to something meaningful. You, as a founder, will spend that time to grow, grasp and finally master your product and your market. Your company will become very similar to you and so will your culture.
I have been extremely fascinated by the idea of building something that doesn’t have an expiration date. Call it IPO, exit. Nothing.
Going long allows you to always make the right decision for your customers and most importantly, for your people. It forces you to always prioritise what will make them successful and have the time to keep doing it over and over. And with that comes an operational and financial discipline in running your company that it’s difficult to build otherwise.
The aspect that I love the most about it? Having the time to really build something great, whatever it takes in terms of months or years.
It took me a while to understand that this would probably the best thing I would enjoy as an entrepreneur in my future venture. Going long.
There are great episodes that will clearly makes sense to you if you have started a company before, it doesn’t matter of which size, venture backed or bootstrapped. Will and Ryan, the two founders, do a fantastic job describing how you feel as a founder as they describe what happened to them in several companies. Most of the times you will find yourself saying “Fuck yes!”, as they clearly have been through a lot themselves and are able to explain what to do and not to do. Not just that, for a founder it is not easy to understand that what is happening to you, it’s normal and it’s common for other people in your role as well.
If you are building a company I highly suggest this podcast. Most of the things they talk about are really things nobody will understand if not other founders, and I know how difficult it is to find support and talk to someone who has been through this before.
Leadership is a never ending discovery of yourself and that comes with lot of challenges. But what I always admired the most about true leaders is how good they are at protecting their people while things are bad.
It’s incredibly difficult to be positive, not letting your team down and be present while things are bad. Even more when you don’t believe you will be able to fix that. Your investors, a bad board meeting, that customer you were supposed to win last month, payrolls knocking at your door and so on. There are moments in your company where everything goes bad and it gets worse day by day. It’s incredibly hard to show up to your all-hands and be strong, positive, smiling. It took me years to manage myself into that and understand that be there for my people was the most important thing to do anyway.
It’s incredibly difficult to be a shield for your people.
It’s something I still need to get better at, but every time I see a founder dealing with it, it reminds me what’s really difficult about leadership and why it has such a toll on you as a person.
This is something I would love to tell to a younger Stefano. I recently (finally) met a great mentor who reminded me how important it is to surround yourself with the right people while building your company.
While you build your company you should ignore 3 types of advisors/mentors:
Corporate guys: they are top manager in a BigCo, never been entrepreneurs and never will be. Almost always useless for entrepreneurs as mentors/advisors unless they want to buy your product or invest in your seed round but even then it should be it, don’t give them control/board seats etc. They don’t understand what you deal with but they will pretend to and give you more issues than benefits.
“The wannabe“: I met many in my journey. This is a tough one. They might present themselves as entrepreneurs but once you dive deep they will likely be involved in 34 different things at the same time, they are advisors, mentors, CEOs and talk like they have seen it all. They are always looking at a conference to attend and ideally speak at. They are building their brand and trying everything to see what works but they are usually clueless. The first rule for an entrepreneur is to focus on one and one only thing. They will waste your time and sometimes do also damages, mostly due to their inexperience, like saying things they shouldn’t about you to other people or give you (really) bad advices on how to manage your company.
People that are doing it for the money: the best advisors and entrepreneurs help other people because they enjoy it and love it. It’s a great way for them to give back and something that they naturally feel the need to do. Yes, they absolutely need to be compensated (don’t commit a mistake here, always pay them, mix of cash/stocks with clear expectations) but they are genuinely involved because they like you, believe in you and have really something to say. They probably don’t need your money but paying them (stocks, with vesting, is the best thing), even something small, makes a difference in your relationship. The best people in this category do something amazing for entrepreneurs: they will be there for you when you need them but they are humble enough to step back when they don’t know/understand something and they will be transparent about it.
Why a mentor is so important is something for another post 🙂
I always struggle with people that think that great and very unnatural things can be achieved by following old and tested rules, like if everybody could do that simply repeating a playbook. In Europe, we tend to think this way more than in other areas of the world, and ultimately I think the US are the ones that master this better than anybody else. While I write this I am thinking about business and entrepreneurship, but this is true in a lot of other human contexts.
This piece from Paul Graham is just a great read and a beautiful way to start thinking about your career and why you don’t necessarily need to work for a large company. Also, a great read for founders.
I particularly love the reference to building confidence for founders, it all starts there when you decide to build something 🙂