Moulding a Leader - A Ramble

It is important to have amazing people with you. In startup terms — ‘get shit done’ guys. Once you give a job to these people, you could just forget about it; you are confident that they would take the baton to where it should. But where do you find these guys?

There are 2 ways — either you find that amazing guy through referrals or previous experience and hire him/her. You might have to pay boatloads of money for these people more often than not.

The second way is tougher, more time consuming and needs a lot of patience. This is to find the person with right 1). Mindset & 2). Skillset and groom him/her to whatever level you want. Sounds like a lot of work. Right? It is. Even more difficult, the grooming is an ‘ambiguous’ part. You are never sure HOW to do it. You CANNOT be sure that it will definitely work. It WILL (almost) always take more time than you want or expect it to (If it doesn’t more time, then you have found yourself the BEST).

WHY should you go for the second option?

Building a team is a such a gratifying feeling that lasts forever

With my startup, we started from 4, scaled it up to 72 when we sold to FullContact. We built several products and collected several accolades on our small journey. But if there is ONE thing that always gets my heart to swell is, when I hear — ‘At Profoundis, you have(had) an AMAZING team’.

Ask anyone who built a good team, he/she would be super proud of that. That is when you are a leader.

Loyalty builds up

When you spent your time, effort and money to groom someone with genuine good intentions for the other person in mind, loyalty automatically builds up. There are many articles that talks about how to ‘how to ‘make’ your team loyal top you?’. This is the simple trick. Have their best interest at heart and work your sheer best to deliver the best for all.

More practical, especially in early stage startups

This is when you don’t have all the money in the world. This is when time (and equity) is your leverage (not money). So you invest your leverage and build your company ground up and slowly. If you get a person beating their ‘offered salary’, then there is a high chance that someone else will beat yours at some point of time. You want to play this long term early in the game.

Now coming to HOW? How do you groom a person into the kick-ass person?

Be with them until they get to a basic level

Help them to understand the basics; give them all the documents you have, give them a good onboarding etc etc. These are all simple things. But the two most important things to convey very early are:


They should know WHY they have to do what they have to do. I don’t think I can convey it as clearly as Simon Sinek did. Just watch this 15 mins video; probably the best ever lesson I learned in the past few years.

2. Decision Making Framework — Values & Culture

Initially when you take the decisions, take the time to also tell them WHY you took the decision? WHAT is your decision making framework? In my case, my decisions(business or not) are driven a lot by the values that I live with. Slowly the new team members will understand the reasons of why you take the decisions. Remember your framework is NOT an algorithm; you DON’T always want them (or expect them) to take the same decisions are you would.

Give them responsibilities and LEAVE them

This is probably the toughest part where most of the people screw it up. There is a proverb from the little place I’m from (Kerala, India) which says — ‘Consider your son as you when it is time’. There has to be a time when you start trusting them, trusting them so much that you give them something bigger than them or you. You bet your life/career on them. Then you have to just leave them scot-free.

They might sink a bit, they might screw up a bit, they might feel the load a bit; but that is ok. Don’t rush to support. Let them figure it out. I tell this to my team - I’m waiting for the mistakes and it is ok. All of us make our own.

You have to be well aware — once you train, there will be a time when he/she doesn’t need you. Don’t whine on it. Remember, that is what you always wanted… that is what you worked for. Accept it when that time comes. DON’T be emotional about it.

Will this always work positive?

HELL NO. I had multiple cases which royally screwed up. The biggest one was in college when I worked with someone to help scale up. It was years long effort. At the end, the same person backstabbed, spread wrong stories and did a great deal of harm to me. But as I said, shit happens all the time and it is ok. It wasn’t a mistake that I groomed the wrong person, the mistake I did was — I put all my eggs in one basket. Yep, I learned :)

I mentioned about how people screw up when it is time to trust people and leave them free (not sure, but I may have committed this one too). There is a corollary too. In some cases, even before ready the person might feel super ready. The person will stop taking you seriously; he or she doesn’t want you to ‘babysit; anymore. While you might know clearly that the person has some more way to go, it is better to leave the person and move on. Time will tell whether the person realizes it or figure it out on his/her own or pay the price.

If you like what you are reading, please do hit the heart button (recommend) and let me know you are reading and appreciating it :)

Arjun was the founder and CEO of Profoundis which he sold to FullContact and joined FullContact as the Head of Data Strategy. If you have countless contacts over multiple devices+accounts, try FullContact for Free.

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