Keep Your Hands Dirty

Throughout my career, I have seen many different management styles. Some were more effective than others but, as a founder, there is one management style that must be avoided at all costs.

I like to call this style the “clean hands founder”.

Many founders are told that they need to step away from the day-to-day business and focus on raising money and promoting the company. While that is important, you should never remove yourself from understanding how your product and company work.

Do not think that adding a sales person will double your bottom line. Do not think that adding a CEO means your life will instantly get easier and you can step away from the day-to-day running of your company. In this journey as a founder, the details do matter.

You probably worked in a large company before you went to build your dream and found a startup. In such big businesses, you were most likely told that you should specialize. That you should not care about every aspect of the product that you and your team are part of. From the product design and creation, go to market, messaging, sales, and support — you, most likely, only touched on these areas of the business.

I distinctly remember a boss I had once at a large company that was the epitome of this strategy. his person was not only in charge of a very large organization, but also building multiple products. There were multiple occasions that this person tried to be the “visionary” for the company — but they were really just good at budgeting. And there were multiple times when we had resets because a deal was done without any knowledge of how the products were actually built. To say this approach caused issues is an understatement. It eventually caused all the talent to lose respect for the company and leave.

Don’t be that founder. You must get your hands dirty. You are the beating heart of your company. You have to keep your finger on the pulse.

The people joining your company do it because they believe in your vision. Do not forget, that is why they are there. They believe in you and what you are building.

When Tier 3 (now CenturyLink Cloud) started to really scale I saw myself moving more and more to management of employees and the company. I realized one day how removed I was when one executive called me and let me know that things were not going well — and that it was systemic. That one call really snapped me back to reality. At that point, I dug back in and started to figure out what was going on, and how to make it better.

It’s not that you have to be coding everyday, but you need to know how the good stuff grows in your garden and how to help customers engage better. This is one of your advantages over larger companies. You can affect change when you know how it all works.

So, don’t get a big head. Don’t take a siloed approach and just focus on following the product all the way through to post sales. Don’t micro-manage. Your customers are incredibly important — but you need to be there to make sure the vision and culture at your company happen.

Every decision you make should be made with your gut. If you stumble over a decision, understand that you can move in a different direction and be nimble with the help of your team. Your team should be quick enough to outmaneuver bigger competitors, but this will only be possible if you stay in the weeds and truly understand how your team works.

That’s not all.

Finally, hustle like there is no tomorrow. You are here to make something different, so be that difference. Out hustle everybody outside of and inside your company to keep them on their toes — and you with your feet firmly stood amongst the weeds of your company.

Be the pacesetter for your team. Understand that you don’t need to understand everything. But understand that, when you close a deal, it’ll go so much better when you understand your company from the product stages all the way to the teams supporting and growing your business.