Who is the BAD cop in your startup? Because every startup needs one, atleast!
I hope you already have the answer for the title question before you reached reading here. If not, it is a problem. Ah well; let me explain what falls under DIFFICULT questions category.
- Those questions which make it difficult for you ask eye-to-eye (salary, equity, compensation, critical feedback).
- Those questions which you know everyone (atleast a few) has inside, but not able to ask.
- Those questions which point to the white elephant(s) in the room
It is better to have more than one Bad Cop, but atleast one person should be. Mostly the problem is to bring the problem onto the table. In my experience, once the problem is pointed out, then others find it less difficult to pour in their opinion.
Let’s start with the basic question — WHY the Bad cop, after all, he is ‘bad’?
When it is all fine and rosy, there is (mostly) no need for a bad cop. But the problem with a startup is, there are problems in the startups probably more than the number of meals(?). When a problem comes, the team with no bad cop will never face it. It will go over, under, around the problem, but never head-on with it. It will be like a ‘quick-fix’. Hence the problem won’t get solved. The bad thing with this approach — the problem will come head-on at some point of time in a much worser shape. You should rather ‘stitch on time to save nine’.
When you have an issue with a team member, unless you open up, the issue will remain inside which will cause a bias for you. Over a period of time, this will aggregate in the gunny bag. One day it will explode with some small trigger. The other person would be like ‘Why the hell did he shout at me for not cleaning my cup?’ or something like that because he wouldn’t know the contents in your ‘gunny bag’ which you have been accumulating over the past several months. Even in cases where you think your CEO is not doing the work, you should just tell it openly.
When you need to make a decision, some body got to step up and bring up all the different perspectives (some of them would be not so easy to say aloud). How many times have you heard a founder saying — ‘he doesn’t do much, he is just there’? This is particarly true when ‘he’ is a co-founder. Teams find it difficult to critically talk to a co-founder or to fire him/her if it gets out of hand.
A typical example of a team not having a bad cop:
Recently I met a founder who asked me about whether my startup equity split is equal. At that moment, I knew her startup equity split was equal. I answered her that we also started as equal split company, then later on we sat down and reset it one year into the company.
The problem with equal split is — if I’m an investor and looking into your company, if I see 33.3% each for 3 founders, the first thing that occur to me would be ‘these folks can’t have the difficult discussion and hence they have split like this. There is absolutely no way all 3 brings exactly the same value to the company. Why would I trust my money to a team who can’t sit down and have a difficult situation?’
I have seen stigma associated with certain topics like equity, titles, roles, way forward for the company etc. The problem is more prominent when close friends start the company. They bring a lot of emotion along-with. As they say ‘It is better to be friends through business and than business through friendship’. Is it true always? Not at all. We are 4 friends who started the company and I would say we have a mix of a lot of logic and a bit of emotion. (I believe a bit of emotion is strength).
Someone, preferably the CEO (In our startup, I’M that bad guy), should be the bad cop in the team. If there are more than one, it is fine. There should be atleast one for sure. Otherwise, the white elephant will remain in the room and all of us will move as though it is not there.
Being the bad cop can be difficult since everyone will hate you at some point of time (atleast for a brief period). You should be OK with this(ofcourse you will feel hurt). Your job is not to please everyone, but to steer the company ship in the RIGHT direction.
There should always be a child who would say ‘King is naked’, but not because of naivety, but because you know too well that it is the right thing to say openly earlier than late.