They are becoming the adages of management gurus and tech startup experts everywhere. So many popular catch phrases, they make your head spin.
Build a great team.
Know the right people.
Learn from the experts.
Manage your people.
All young business leaders need to learn how to do these things, right?
I say wrong.
While I don’t disagree with everything said about these four topics, here’s why more often than not, you should think, and do, the opposite.
You’re building a ‘ tech company,’ not an all-star team
Yes, the team is important. As Jim Collins says, get the right people on the bus. We hear it all the time. But make no mistake; you are building a technology company, not an elite group of consultants who charge by the hour. The value built needs to be in the company itself, not reliant on a few key people. Yes, you’ll need some talented people to help build the company, but just remember to actually build a company along the way. Good contracts, processes, strategy, oversight, margins, IP, lively meetings, strategically constructed barriers to entry, a flexible product road map, real culture, and some form of a solid CRM. These are just some of the things that give a company real value. If one or two people can leave your company and drop the value of your business in a significant way, you haven’t built a true company. And yes, that includes you.
As Collins also says, elite leaders build a business that grows in value beyond their tenure. That’s because they’ve built a real business through and through, rather than one in which the value has too much of a direct relationship with the leader. As a bonus, it’s also how you sell a company, because an acquirer will value the business more than they will the people. After all, the business has no say in who owns it, people do.
It’s actually NOT who you know
This is not to say having a robust network won’t help you. It can speed things up, and knowing people who have a great network is helpful too. But if you know with whom you need to connect, you don’t need anyone to make an introduction. The pitch and approach need to be considered and weighed, and you’ll need to be persistent, but I firmly believe you can get in front of anyone without a direct connection.
It’s easier than ever to find out what makes someone tick, their professional mandate and how to reach them. Sure, a quick check on LinkedIn for a mutual acquaintance is worth the 15 seconds, but if there isn’t one, don’t fret. The old-school idea that a network is somehow proprietary or out of reach, and that to tap into it you must work through one of the gatekeepers or connectors, is simply not a reality (if it ever was).
When we started CellWand, we knew absolutely no one in wireless and we had no track record in mobile in any way. And yet we landed industry-first contracts with every national carrier in the U.S. and in Canada.
We simply didn’t care that we didn’t know anyone in the industry, and neither should you.
The experts are often wrong
The first thing many startup entrepreneurs (at least those not so paranoid they think everyone will steal their idea) do is get in front of as many experts as they can to vet their idea. And while this can be invaluable to validate or shift your thinking, too often entrepreneurs get dissuaded from their idea or value proposition because of a strong naysayer. Basically, someone highly respected tells you your idea will never work.
There is a lot to learn from experts and we certainly had the sense to adjust our model along the way based on what we were learning and being told. But I was struck by how often these experts were wrong, in particular those who were so diametrically opposed to our model and, at the same time, knew our space intimately.
But the thing is, they were always looking backwards, not forwards. Their expertise was formed based on a strong understanding of the past. And in this day and age, the past has never been more disconnected from predicting the future. Things are changing so quickly, and new types of models are coming faster and in greater quantities.
So if a VC, angel, analyst or industry guru tells you your idea won’t work, ask why. Be honest with yourself about their thinking, and if you’re still convinced you are on the right track, keep going.
Don’t manage people, manage priorities
The idea is, with the right people in place, you really just need to make sure they are prioritizing the right things. Think of these as “the big rocks” to quote a Coveyism. This got me out of the weeds and prevented me from micromanaging, and just ensured the team was staying focused on what was important and we were all rowing in the right direction. To put this into effect, we employed Patrick Lencioni’s weekly tactical meeting from his book, Death by Meeting.
As a result, our management team has a quick Monday morning check-in with each member going through their priorities for the week. If something is misaligned or too low on the priority list, it is discussed and altered. But with this process in place, it forces everyone to think about their priorities, which is enough to get them to re-align themselves more than 90 percent of the time. And it also means they can go about their job that week, while I do mine, without a lot of other unnecessary interaction and meddling.
So there you have it. Not in line with the most popular way of thinking right now, perhaps, but sometimes drinking too much of the Kool-Aid just isn’t for me.
As co-founder, Nick Quain started CellWand when #TAXI was just an idea on a napkin, and as CEO today, he still drives the strategic direction of the company. Combining his 15+ years of web and mobile experience, with his considerable marketing and sales talents, Nick has been the architect behind the company’s business model, and the catalyst behind its growth.
As part of our ongoing series examining the ecosystem necessary to bring technology to market, we asked Nick Quain co-founder and CEO of CellWand, to share some of his insights as an entrepreneur who has successfully brought technology to market. This is the first of his commentaries and we welcome your feedback.