How One Question Helps Me Manage a Fast-Growing Startup Team
A life hack I learned from a Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur
“If you’re unsure how self-sufficient your team is, ask yourself, how many times do you use the word ‘defer’ in a day?”
This is a lesson and life hack I’ve learned from serial entrepreneur and investor Jeff Seibert — and have applied to just about every aspect of my life.
While building Digital Press over the past nine months (and dealing with the growing pains that come with a high-growth startup), I found that deferring quickly went from being good in theory to 100% essential.
As a founder, I am at a point now where I no longer have the luxury of doing all the things that need to be done.
When Digital Press was just me and Drew Reggie sitting at the tiny table in my studio apartment kitchen, we had that luxury. We got the clients. We handled the billing. We did the work. We marketed our services. We did everything — because there was no other option.
Today, it would be humanly impossible for us to operate that same way. If anything, it would be detrimental. So we’ve learned to ask ourselves the question, “How can we defer this task to another team member?”
Now my emails to clients look more like this:
“So excited to be working with you! CC’ing Ashley here to get you set up for invoicing. CC’ing Katrina here to schedule a time for your first content call. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to either of them if you have any questions.”
In deferring to team members, I am able to protect my most valuable asset, which is time — more specifically, time spent working on things that will exponentially increase or improve our business as a whole.
Seeing the success of this way of operating in our company, I have gone ahead and applied the same methods to my entire life. And I’ve done so more out of necessity than preference, because building a company while maintaining positive and healthy relationships with friends and family is no easy feat.
I defer as often as possible.
(Obviously, there are times when deferring can be taken as “I don’t care,” so I work hard to make sure that my efforts are never communicated that way.)
If I look around at any of my peers — fellow entrepreneurs or not — I see how hard “deferring” is for them. Until you get used to this way of operating, deferring feels like you’re avoiding getting your hands dirty. You almost feel guilty for doing so — and if it’s not guilt you feel, it’s uncertainty as to whether the other person can do the task as well as you can.
It’s a control issue. And what happens as a result is that people end up building unscalable businesses — because they insist on making every single, tiny decision.
By learning the art of deferring, you’ll quickly realize what your time is better spent on — which is conducting the entire orchestra, instead of trying to play each individual instrument simultaneously.
The former leads to wonderful music.
The latter leads to dysfunction and stress.