Scaling A Startup? Pick An Idol
You know, for someone who has never run a company, I have a ton of opinions about how to do it better than anyone else. I’m all about that Monday morning armchair quarterbacking. True story. Ask my CEO.
Truth be told, though, I’ve seen a lot of shit over the years. I’ve felt a lot of shit. I’ve shipped a lot of shit and a lot of… shit. And I’ve learned and grown from that. Were the day ever to come that I finally put my money where my mouth is, I feel that I’ve learned a few things along the way that might help.
One of those things? Pick an idol.
I could write two dozen posts with a hundred thousand words on why a broad vision, a world-changing aspiration, and a clear mission, a quantifiable action plan, are an absolute necessity as you scale.
I won’t get too side-tracked into my big shpiel on it, but generally, I find that most vision statements are either too heavy-handed or too bombastic:
Startupbus is changing human life as we know it.
Great. Awesome. I repeat that to myself to the mirror in the morning and then come in to my job at Startupbus and check the support tickets and hate my fucking life. Cool Story®™. Changing life alright.
And, I find that most mission statements are too qualitative or don’t articulate how the company is actioning the vision:
Startupbus was founded to help people live better lives through big data, analytics, ML, Hadoop, VR, AR, and quantum computing.
We do this, year over year, by cold-calling ever-increasing amounts of people, ever-increasingly harassing them on the phone until they concede, and then charging them ever-increasing money.
We believe we’re changing human life, and we’ve recruited a kick ass team of entrepreneurs and intrapeneurs who work hard and play hard—and we have the ping pong tables and beer taps to prove it.”
To co-opt a phrase we all hate, I literally can’t even with that.
Of course, I’m being a bit facetious, but I do think you need more than just a broad vision and a clear mission to scale. For a lot of scaling start-ups, coming up with a clear vision and turning that into an actionable mission is actually super fucking hard. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes it takes an entirely different leader. Rarely, sometimes it doesn’t.
But regardless of where the start-up is at with its vision and mission, I think there’s a ton to be gained by doing something far, far simpler that any leader or leadership can do right now.
Every founder, or SLT, should pick an idol.
Who is the other company out there that you want to emulate, and more importantly, why?
Agreeing on this, and communicating it, can have a dramatic impact on what you prioritize and how your company culture can evolve quickly. Showing an example of what good looks like can be transformational for helping your teams execute.
Let me give you some examples.
Are You Customer Success Company? Be Zappos.
Say you’re working for a company with a heavy relationship management component; you have account managers working directly with, and growing, accounts. The success of your customers, then, is your success.
Mother-funking Zappos should be your idol.
Read Delivering Happiness. Buy something from Zappos. Call into the support. Hear them change your life because behind your shoe delivery is the story of Joe, the support tech who has been saving his entire life to buy the Jordan Air Force 1's you just bought and he’s one step closer and he told you that because he’s not reading off a fucking script because he just loves talking to you and making your day makes his.
Are You A Software Company? Be Netflix.
Say you’re working for a company with a heavy focus on product. You have hundreds of thousands of people using your product every day, and you need to be able to make decisions effectively without causing mass exoduses and without veering too far from your mission in spite of external pressures.
For the love of all that is holy, Netflix should be your idol.
Watch talks on how data drives the decision making at Netflix. How every single UI element is placed and every user experience concieved and every color chosen not because one or many egos ordain it but because the designs have been tested, and validated, iterated on—and then measured for success.
Are You A Self Service Company? Be WealthSimple.
Say you’re working for company that relies heavily on self service in order to be successful. Maybe you sell software that helps a business run its operations like Shopify or maybe you’re a clothing store with a neat robo fashion advisor like Frank & Oak.
Y’all need to go check out WealthSimple.
Download the app and run through the onboarding very carefully so you can see how the company took arguably one of the most painful and complex processes, signing up for an investment account, and turned it into a ridiculously simple if even fun process—one that even Expensify could envy—and to great benefit.
There’s a ton of other examples out there to learn from. Read Four Steps To The Epiphany, or The Innovator’s Solution, or Good To Great, or any number of other “here’s what you should do right” business books in the Chapters.
Whether it’s aspiring to have a better company culture, better processes, or just plain better execution in general, broadcasting out an “idol” as a company can be a huge boon to the productivity of your teams and your leadership’s ability to make focused decisions that keep the company moving towards that bigger, brighter future painted.
Don’t just tell your team you know better and you do better than the rest of the world. Be humble and show them what better looks like.