Guest Contribution by Justin Choi, Co-Founder, and Head of Product Strategy, Cie
Today’s startup founders typically find their initial success because they are passionate and laser-focused on the development, launch, and adoption of their invention. The problem is that successful companies can’t be built and scaled on the basis of mere passion and a focus on a single product or innovation. Eventually, startups must grow and diversify, and this is where startup founders typically stumble.
Ultimately, if a startup founder wants to scale a company, that person needs to make the difficult transition from specialist to generalist. The most successful startup founders aren’t the best at “wearing multiple hats.” They’re the ones who understand where their own weaknesses lie and educate themselves on what it will take to fill that gap.
Here are the key steps on the path to successfully doing:
1. Know your gaps
With entrepreneurship comes a natural tendency toward confidence and self-sufficiency. These can be useful attributes in a startup founder, except when it comes time to build a company around you.
Self-awareness doesn’t just happen in most cases. It requires a rigorous process of internal reflection. To get started on this path, startup leaders need to evaluate their passion and proficiency levels in the below areas. These areas represent skill sets and interests that correspond to the major areas of the brain. Each one if the key to scaling your company, and given how our brains work, you’re not equipped to handle the majority of them on your own.
So which skill sets truly describe your passions and proficiencies? (Hint: If you’re identifying with more than one or two of the proficiency centers, you’re not being honest with yourself, and you might need to talk to some of the people around you to get that honesty.)
After assessing your strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to devise a plan to improve your comprehension in the areas where you’re least competent.
2. Specialize in being a generalist
Let me be clear: The next step on the path to becoming a generalist isn’t to become an expert in every core capability required in a company. First off, that would be impossible, and second, even if it were possible, it would take too long. In truth, it’s unnecessary.
What a startup founder actually needs to do becomes aware of what they don’t know. It’s hard to appreciate strong skills within another person if you have no concept of what’s involved in their role. So find people who do things that you don’t do—and who everyone agrees does them well—and start asking questions. Even better, shadow them. To lead a company, you need to know what the day-to-day of a strong executive in any given discipline looks like. Give them the space to teach you, and approach the exercise with honest curiosity.
3. Find your generals and fill the gaps
When scaling an organization successfully, it is important to hire well, but in those cases when you are unable to attract the right candidate, there are also other options. Think about building a network around yourself that recognizes and safeguards against your own weaknesses. It might be through a team or board of advisors, or even through smart organizational partnerships. The key is to refer back to your newfound awareness of your own proficiencies and make sure the people around you rank highly where you rank lowest, and that your cumulative network has representatives with high proficiency in every area.
Of course, hiring will be the most vital part of your scaling efforts, and it’s important to do that thoughtfully. That’s why the first two steps in this process are so key. You absolutely can’t hire well for a role if you don’t understand how a successful person conducts themselves in those roles. And remember: Sometimes the best hires are not the ones with the longest resumes, but rather those individuals who are passionate about the category in which your business operates and your company’s mission.
Great companies aren’t built by a single individual. When it comes time to scale, great companies require well-rounded guidance — and a leader who knows when and how to surround the company with the right kind of expertise. To scale a startup, founders must embark on a rigorous exercise in self-awareness and the cultivation of professional and emotional intelligence. The secret to the startup brain is that it’s much more than one brain- the best startup brain is the brain trust of you, your team and advisors working together as complementary minds.
Justin Choi is a serial entrepreneur who has founded and sold successful companies across various sectors, including mobile games, advertising and media, and app development. He holds multiple patents, and advises organizations, from startups to large scale enterprises, on innovation and technology. Justin currently serves as Head of Product Strategy at Cie and as the CEO of Nativo.