There comes a time when a start-up needs to make a conscious effort to mature. Here’s how to do it.
(The original article appeared in INC.com. Here is a link.)
I just got back from vacation with my family, which includes both a 30-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. Only 11 years separates these two, but in terms of their understanding of the world, it might as well be a hundred years.
It was fascinating to observe. And, naturally, I saw it through my start-up glasses.
In start-up language, my son is clearly at the concept or seed stage. To wit:
- He views problems and challenges in black-and-white terms: This works. That is stupid.
- Other players in his world have very clear roles and value, and are very much like him.
- His knowledge is perfect with regard to what is important to him. (To put it another way, he is confident that what he doesn’t know, he doesn’t need to know.)
- The tasks that are necessary for his advancement are straightforward (study for this test, do the laundry) and the time frame is usually defined in hours or days.
My son’s world is like the world of many of the company founders who come through the Triangle Startup Factory: small, easily defined, and well ordered. Good things can happen in that environment—a young man can figure out what he is capable of, and so can a young company. But you don’t want to get stuck there. If you don’t expand your world, you’ll get left behind pretty quickly.
My daughter is definitely not at the seed stage—she is probably more like a Series B entity. She has a family of her own, works full time, and is closing in on an advanced degree. This is her life:
- She fights for her goals on multiple fronts (family, business, professional development).
- She deals with a wide diversity of personalities (children, boss, peers, husband, professors).
- She continually seeks and processes information from multiple sources.
- She balances short-term and long-term challenges in order to meet a larger set of goals.
So how do you get your company from my son’s stage to my daughter’s?
- Find advisers and mentors who will define the bigger world for you. I’m talking about people who are not like you or the members of your team.
- Develop a systematic and regular way for these advisers to test your position on major business assumptions.
- Put your advisers and/or board members to work on your personal business maturity.
- Find a peer group where it is safe to ask questions and listen to their analysis of you. Give as well as receive.
That’s how a business grows up. Now, perhaps you’re asking yourself whether it’s time for your business to take the step. I’d say you just answered your own question.
Great read. Being the 19 year old son is quite a fun ride though. During that 8 month stage, we learned how to be confident about product features we were executing and our product in general. That confidence and execution allowed us to grow into the “30 year old stage” where advisors and customers trusted our business enough to want to become a part of it. Having an advisor who had a successful venture targeting businesses similar to ours for the past month has forced us to look beyond our own funnel of knowledge and inexperience. More importantly, the peer group which is our customer base is extremely useful for making hard decisions for us through an 80/20 rule.
Thanks for the post and giving us a slight feeling of validation!