What an Entrepreneur Can Teach an Executive

Posted: February 8, 2016

The difference between an entrepreneur and an executive? Often its the amount of money in the bank and the size of the team. And these things can change the way a manager or executive leads their employees and makes big decisions. Here are a few things an entrepreneur would tell an executive in regards to focusing on whats important.


1.It’s all about the team. A dysfunctional team means a dysfunctional – and likely doomed – company. Google’s research shows that the most important driver of their teams’ success is psychological safety. That feels right to me: Can you be yourself at work? Can you take risks at work? Can you ask the “dumb question” at work? Can you fail? Can you trust others to deliver what they say they will?

2. A broad-brush view of your customer doesn’t cut it. Instead, you increasingly have to understand your customer in great detail. What life stage is she in? What is her family situation? What does she read? What does she read, but not really want to admit that she reads? (I’m looking at you, People Magazine.) What does she do outside of work? Who influences her? What is her “pain point”? What information does she need to engage with your product?

3. Information is the lifeblood of a company, and it should be shared broadly. If it’s not shared among a start-up team, then it’s only close-to-coincidence if product, marketing and engineering are aligned. Those odds are too low for a successful start-up.

 4. Break big projects into small pieces and use the calendar as a weapon to drive progress. At Ellevest, delivery dates are chosen and it takes almost an Act of Congress to move them; features can be postponed, even some bugs can remain, but the date is close-to-sacrosanct. And these delivery dates come often: the product is user-tested at every step along the way, and adjustments to the product – based on the feedback that is gathered – is the norm.

In contrast, I’ve been part of big businesses that never seemed to make a tech deadline. This was often because the team would (consistently) underestimate the amount of work to be done, or the complexity of a project….or the project would suffer feature creep….they would only add, never subtract from a tech project. Thus, it could be a real recipe for a late, over budget, over-engineered roll-out….that in many cases didn’t resemble what the team started out to build in the first place. Or the world had simply moved on.

5. Call a spade and spade and don’t fall in love with a particular strategy or product. Instead let the customer tell you what she needs…and change with her as she changes.

6. Values matter. You’ve got your values written down; they’re even hanging on your break room wall. So of course they matter, right?

Well, I know we all say that; but at a start-up, where you are making many (important) decisions for the first time, they can serve as a key prism for those company-make-or-break decisions. As a result, they provide guide-rails to decisions for the team.

7. Are you really sure it’s Marketing’s fault? Really? I’ve always found that when someone says “if they could just do a better job of telling the story,” it was time to dig deeper.

You don’t have a the luxury of the time – or the cash – to blame the other guys; a much better path to success is to be honest with yourself. Because, believe me – at a big company, you may say you spend the money like it’s your own. But you don’t. Not til it’s really your own. And it’s the that real drivers of performance come into sharp relief.


Read the full article on LinkedIn Pulse here.

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