Startup CEOs: Screw Your Strengths

You’ve beat the odds and created a product that people love. You have some traction. Hopefully you’re even growing like a weed and hockey sticks abound.

You built a team to help you scale up the business and seal your success… But secretly you’re struggling.

You know you should be better about delegating, but everything just seems easier to do yourself.

And I bet you hate giving feedback, too. Maybe you’ve been putting off that “your fired!” conversation with that bad hire for weeks, even if it’s hurting your team and their ability to get shit done.

Maybe you don’t communicate or give regular updates to your team (you’d rather do a couple tweaks the product).

Or you forget to ask your team about their weekend and whats going on in their life. You tell yourself its because you have to get the latest numbers out to your investors or calm down that angry customer.

You hope people are happy and with you for the long haul, but you really have no idea. Since you hate giving negative feedback, you probably hate getting it, too.

Leadership and Management is Hard

If what I’ve just said hits home (even just a little bit), you’re not alone.

Fred Wilson Says:

Starting requires an idea/inspiration, a team, some technical skills, the ability to iterate on the MVP and find product market fit. That’s hard for sure, but what happens after you find product market fit is even harder. That’s called building the company and building the business. And that is where I have seen all founders struggle.

Delegation, performance coaching, firing people, consistently communicating your vision and progress and building personal relationships with your team are some of the most crucial aspects of leadership and management…

They’re also friggin’ hard. And the skills, behaviors and habits required to do them well don’t come naturally to too many technical founder/CEOs.

They Say “Play to Your Strengths – Eliminate Your Weaknesses”

If you want to be the best you can be overall, there is plenty of research supporting the idea that you should play to your strengths and minimize the impacts of your weaknesses.

They say that if you focus on your strengths, you’ll have a much better chance of seeing meaningful improvements to your skills, abilities and competence.

If you’re a manager at a fortune 500 company or developer #25 at a startup, the advice makes a lot of sense. But what if you’re the kind of person who took an idea and made it something real that people love?

I Say “Screw your Strengths. Start Developing Your Weaknesses.”

If you’re a great programmer and you love programming, do you really need to actively try focus on being a better programmer? Not really. Doing and practicing things you know and love  have a funny way of earning a spot in the busiest of schedules.

Getting out of the building and talking to customers was painful, but you did it anyway. You did it because you knew that the only way to build a real business was to get feedback from actual customers.

The only reason you’re a startup CEO is because you overcame weaknesses and pushed through the pain to get where you are today. Confronting your weaknesses won’t stop once you get traction.

And it only gets harder as you turn the product that people love into a real, sustainable business.

As your team grows, you also must grow as an entrepreneur, a manager and a leader… But not everyone makes the cut.

The biggest wins come from founders who are able to transition from successful founder to successful CEO.

This post is the first of many in a series on how you can grow up with your startup. In future posts we’ll cover many topics, including:

  • Why is the transition from product founder to business manager so hard?
  • Can I learn how to be a great leader?
  • What is the best way to figure out what skills to develop first?
  • And… How do you know if your company is as strong as you think it is?

I’ll be posting a new article in the series every few days.  Every post will be supported  by a combination of the latest research in the industrial psychology literature and practical, real-world examples. I’ll keep writing until all angles have been exhausted.

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  • Justin

    I like the point being made here: building a product is hard. But once you’ve built it, you have a new mountain to climb: building a business.

    In our startup culture, “building the business” is usually delegated to a new CEO, brought in from the outside. I don’t think it has to be that way. Managing a business is hard, but it’s just a new challenge. Founders don’t have to give their business to someone else to manage.

    • Andy Parkinson

      Excellent summary, thanks Justin!