As a new venture takes shape, going from an idea to an operating organisation, the Founder must evolve as well, and their mindset, personal discipline, and leadership skills must shift gears.
By Ajay Batra
The 2020 pandemic, personal upheavals, and the challenges around the availability of risk capital have only reinforced the fact that startups need to work with game-changing vision and sound business models for long-term sustenance.
Startups need to put a lot of thought into what would be required beyond the “launch,” and work on creating viable long-term businesses. What are the key personal and leadership competencies founders need to leverage as they move from an idea to an operating venture, to an enduring institution?
The early days of a founding team are important in building the entrepreneurial mindset and to create an organisational culture that can support ideation, experimentation, and action. During this nascent, and highly unpredictable stage of their venture, individual traits that provide direction and anchoring include:
Child-like curiosity is what allows entrepreneurs to develop a creative bent of mind and the propensity to challenge the situation by not just delving into “why?” but also “why not?” Creativity for successful entrepreneurs extends beyond the depths of their personal reservoirs of imagination; they leverage the diversity of experiences in the people around them to generate breakthrough ideas.
A natural result of this creativity is that startups have an equal focus on dissecting problems and arriving at solutions, which in many cases leads to sustained and wholesome impact.
Changing the world
Enterprises founded on this mission bring a purity of intent and a meaningful purpose to their efforts. In the final analysis, beyond the commercial imperatives, each startup must be driven by an urge to make a substantial improvement in the ecology and the lives of people and animals on the planet.
This broader worldview equips startups to develop an outside-in perspective that eventually helps in identifying trends for possible conversion into opportunities.
Successful founders are those who have a clear understanding of who their customers are, what do they want, and how to meet their expectations. Nuanced customers are exceptionally capable of rational and intelligent decisions.
Therefore, those startups that acknowledge this important fact and develop the capacity to listen to what the customers didn’t say are likely to stay ahead of the curve with a serious competitive edge. Continuous innovation is the key to attaining customer loyalty.
Nuanced customers are exceptionally capable of rational and intelligent decisions. Gone are the days when purchase decisions were solely based on #advertising and influencer #marketing.
While the initial focus of founders is to get the new venture successfully “off the ground”, the growth phase requires management discipline to build a strong foundation for delivering consistent results. Key individual traits at this stage are:
Externally, startups face daily challenges from changing market dynamics. Internally, from talent management to product development, a million things compete for the founding team’s attention. The trick to achieving meaningful results is to maintain a laser-sharp focus on the most important goals at any given time.
Constant prioritisation and re-prioritisation of activities are necessary to ensure that the organisation, at-large, continues to make meaningful progress. Of course, a crucial part of maintaining focus is also knowing what, and when, to say “no” to.
Bias for execution and learning
A startup’s journey is non-linear and, for the most part, non-deterministic. Rapid action and learning at every step are essential for seamless movement towards goals. Steve Blank has rightly pointed out, “No plan survives first contact with customers.” Therefore, it is the planning that takes precedence over plans, and similarly, it’s the actions that overshadow analysis in the complex, chaotic world of startups.
A startup must create an environment for its stakeholders to take informed action, quickly analyse its impact, learn, and keep moving ahead. Startups that encourage a “Fail fast. Learn faster” attitude are poised for greater success. With humility, one needs to learn, pivot, and keep moving ahead.
Vibrant ecosystem and a strong team
Successful startup founders understand the value of developing an ecosystem that is lively and thriving as it is the various stakeholders (partners, consumers, team members, and the community at large) in this ecosystem who collectively create a platform for business growth. Hence, all are significant stakeholders in each other’s success.
Often, these startups create new industry segments that other players leverage to build new businesses. Founders also realise their important role in building a cohesive team that believes in the mission and vision with similar intensity and takes pride in their daily work life, as well as has a strong sense of belonging and unwavering focus on innovating for the future.
Great startups create an empowered and trusting work culture that is based on mutual respect and confidence in each other’s skill sets, and a leadership that believes in participative and decentralised decision-making.
The traits of leadership required for launching startups are completely different than those required to scale successful ventures with more moving parts, greater operating autonomy, and larger team size. Founders must use this transition for greater self-reflection and become comfortable with letting go and empowering others, as their venture’s identity evolves from a comfortably-chaotic startup to an effective organisation.