THE RENEGADE FOUNDER’S GUIDE

By Gabriela Hersham

Huckletree Founder Gabriela Hersham at Huckletree West.

When Emily asked me to write this a couple of weeks ago, little could she expect that doing so was to trigger a process of self-revelation in me.

Through writing this, I’ve been forced to face a matter that until now has remained completely dormant inside my psyche: the fact that I don’t consider myself very renegade at all.

In fact, for years I’ve struggled with mild imposter syndrome, something I’ve since learned that many other founders suffer from too. I didn’t invent a new product, or create a new market.

I simply came across a concept I liked a couple of years ago, saw an opportunity, had the drive to make it happen and had access to people with enough money to help me kick of.

Through the process of piecing together my thoughts for this article, I’ve found myself hugely conscious of the nagging thought in the back of my mind repeatedly telling me that the Really Clever People are going to laugh at me. That my tips are going to highlight me as the imposter that I am because there won’t be anything renegade about them at all.

And yet curiously, a few moments have arisen where (often inspired by Cosmic Magnetism by Anthony Norvell) I have forced myself to repeat the mantra that I am good enough, I have created something special, I do have a tiny speck of something renegade inside my soul. And in these precious moments I feel proud.

I may not have invented a life-changing product, changed the way an industry functions or started a revolution of any sort, but I’ve brought my soul with me on every single step of our journey and this soul/energy/my gut — has, since day one, informed everything. From our brand direction to our strategy, to keeping the focus on our vision and continually steering the navigation back towards our mission.

I often know when someone is going to end up joining our team because the magnetic energy is too obvious to ignore. To pushing ‘go’ on new spaces that feel right in my gut — and conversely to knowing which ones to say no to. To knowing when to say no in general. To saying no to potential opportunities that risk steering us away from our strategy. To being confident enough to ruthlessly stick to our membership curation policy and in doing so to be comfortable sacrificing revenue for curation. To knowing when to say no to people and organisations that I just don’t think we should be working with. To saying no when things are not up to standard and to being vocal when anyone treats a member of my team disrespectfully.

And I now agree that whilst I’ll never be called the next Louis Pasteur or (personal fave) Nikola Tesla, being renegade is as much a mindset as it is the physical outcome of your labour.

I AM renegade.

Emily was renegade in asking me to write this. The Huckletree team are a bunch of renegades in their own ways and our members are renegades too. So perhaps I am allowed a voice in this arena, and perhaps my learnings over the past few years can have impact. And so, unapologetically, here is what I’ve come to see:

Tip #1: Do Not Give Too Much of a Shit

Ego is any founder’s absolute nemesis. At work (and this is something that I have very much had to learn over time) I seek criticism as I believe that it is the only way to grow. I am able to put my hand up when I’ve reacted too quickly or made an error in judgment. In fact I did so three times last week with three different team members, because the very nature of having to make quick decisions is that sometimes you’ll be wrong. I am not perfect and nor do I pretend to be.

This is my first business and I’m learning as I go, which means that sometimes I get it wrong. I say weird things. I can be awkward. People can find my hustle annoying.

Likewise, I am very conscious that only a small fraction of the good ideas we have will ever come from me and so I live by the mantra of hiring smart people and letting them work their magic. Credit is not the end goal; having an impact and creating a legacy is.

Tip #2: Put People Before Profit

(a) because this genuinely comes from my soul and (b) because having a moral conscience is synonymous with success in today’s world. Do the things that don’t scale.

Double down on surprising and delighting your customers, and do it from the heart. If you can’t do it from the heart, don’t do it at all.

And this includes your own team. Your team are your single most important asset so make sure they know how much you value them. Give them the space they need in order to create, but create the structure for them to operate within. Respect that they all have their lives and daily struggles outside of work, and be understanding when these struggles are sometimes more important to them than their work. Have their backs. They are your family and you’re in this together. 
Build a framework that allows them to learn and to grow. Be inclusive. Build for diversity. Always try your hardest to promote from within rather than hiring externally. Be quick to say goodbye to the people who aren’t capable of bringing the right dimension and energy to your team. Build a business that has a positive effect on the people and communities around you. Strive for positive social impact and know that this doesn’t have to be at the sacrifice of profitability.

Tip #3: You Won’t Always Be Everyone’s Friend

You’re not here to be and neither are they. In other words I have a job to do here and so do you. And my main job is, as I see it, as a sort of cultural architect.

Our company culture is so important to us; I see it in my team members and I feel it myself. I know that we are fulfilled at work when we are challenged enough to grow and when our good work is recognised.

Equally, we can lose sight of it all in a second in the moments where everything gets so stressful that we feel undervalued, when we feel tired and when negative energy overcomes us. 
The most important thing that I can do for my company is to keep hiring the right people (hence why to this day I ask for sign off on all new hires — in 95% of cases having met them in person or via Skype before an offer is made) and to keep redirecting our culture back to our sweet spot, which is right at the border of hyper-productivity and mutual appreciation. This makes it my responsibility to speak out when people are letting the team down — either by under-performing, by bringing negative energy into work with them or by acting inappropriately. And that means that I cannot always be everyone’s friend.

Tip #4: Say Goodbye to Complete Control

A good founder does not need to behave like a dictator. Founders that we admire tend to be strong peoples-people with high amounts of EQ, who realise that their environments do not need to be completely free from error.

Great founders allow room for mistakes and encourage people to celebrate and learn from their failings.

We are not a generation that likes to be told what to do. We don’t adhere to steep management structures de facto nor do we follow rules that are put in place with the sole purpose of disciplining us. We want to believe. There is no end to how many times a day a founder needs to be able to sell the dream, to get buy-in. Arguably, if a founder believes that she needs to be autocratic to achieve her business goals then she’s either hiring the wrong people or her approach to managing them is wrong. Both cases are fucked.

Tip #5: Stay Humble

It’s not about how many people you employ, or how much money you’ve raised. It’s not about being your own boss or proclaiming yourself an entrepreneur. It’s about surrounding yourself with good people, being receptive to warranted opinions and advice and being open to self-discovery and personal growth. It can also be about living by the ethos of underselling and over-delivering. And about remembering that millions of people have achieved much bigger things than you, no matter how great you’re doing. It’s about having a meaningful impact on other people’s’ lives.

In short: don’t be an asshole.