At Consero, the events company that I co-founded last year, we have reached a point that is common among many startups. After a year of effort to design, build, and execute our business model, we have developed confidence in our team and vision, and we are now ready to take our business to a new scale. To succeed, we must address and overcome a variety of obstacles, both large and small. The first one is me.
The evolution from startup to big business is different for every company. For some, it requires raising capital. For others, it is a matter of bulking up the sales team. But each company shares something in common during this process—a significant increase in workload. Single-person functions become too much for one person to manage, and bottlenecks begin to form, which can slow everything down.
Like many startup CEOs, particularly at bootstrapped companies, I am responsible for a wide array of administrative tasks. I do everything from pay our bills and run payroll to recruit employees and manage our outside counsel. And despite our use of Cloud-based resources like Google Apps and Dropbox, I occasionally need to spend time as CIO. I managed all of these functions well during our first year, if with a startup-like 100-hour workweek, keeping things from falling through cracks while managing our ground-floor team.
As our team passed the 20-person mark, my workload became too much to bear. Our recruiting alone had become a full-time job, as had most of my other functions. I had reached a perpetual state of stress and exhaustion, and it was clear that some things needed to change quickly. Fortunately, I had been in this place before. At my last business, Clutch Legal Staffing—a temporary staffing agency that served the legal industry—we experienced a similar growth trajectory. And the lesson I learned at Clutch provided guidance for my next move: It had become time to trivialize myself. That isn’t to say that I needed to turn in my office key and go work on my golf handicap. Rather, it had become time for me to extract myself from as many administrative tasks as possible. If I didn’t, Consero would suffer eternally from Founder’s Syndrome—that unfortunate state of being in which the founder keeps tight reins on all functions, declining to delegate and thereby inhibiting growth.
Step One: Process
The first step along the path to making myself obsolete administratively involved developing and memorializing processes for every administrative function at the company. If I have a step-by-step process for creating an e-mail account, paying a bill, or logging a new resume in our recruiting folder, I can have someone else perform those tasks. Without processes, I will be afraid to delegate, and for good reason—things will most certainly not go according to plan.
Step Two: Create Metrics
The second step was to create objective metrics for all functions that I delegate. This enabled me to communicate my expectations more effectively, as well as provide a framework to evaluate the performance of those who are taking over my work.
Step Three: Identify Replacements
The third step is to begin focusing more intently on management potential in all new hires. A key element of growth in our service business is more staff. And as our staff increases, our management needs increase. We need to think now about who will be managing in a year.
Step Four: Put Your Trust in Others
The final step is to take a deep breath and delegate. Handing off the reins on important tasks to someone else is no easy feat. But if you have the right people, along with good processes and metrics in place, the odds are that things will work out just fine.
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