You need an army to build an empire

There is a pivotal moment in the career of every business owner where they transform from a founder into to a leader. It’s the moment when you realize people are not your biggest cost item but your most valuable asset.

For fear of coming off too much like a sounding board for your favorite business book let me explain. It doesn’t matter how smart or efficient you are at some point you will hit a wall where you become the bottleneck to your own growth. I see this time and time again where founders are either oblivious or adamantly resistant to the need to recruit more people. The simple fact is that you need an army to build an empire.

Just so we are clear, there are also some founders that have the opposite problem. They want to start hiring too many people too quickly, or they simply want to pass off tasks to people they can hire (most commonly sales). That is also a big problem but that’s for another day.

The audience I want to address right now is group of founders taking too long to build their teams. If you are familiar with my writing it will come as no surprise to you that this too is a category I once fell into. It started with a solar technology company I founded right out of college. I was an engineer by trade and knowledgeable enough about business that I scoffed at mentors who told me I needed a co-founder. Why would I when I’m perfectly capable of handling the two most important aspects of the company, technical and sales development!?

It’s hard for me to fathom that I genuinely believed that at one point. Of course, reality slapped me in the face eventually. I was nowhere near skilled enough to fully execute either role on my own. Furthermore, even if I did have such superpowers I completely underestimated the bandwidth necessary to fulfill either job. As a result, I essentially floundered for over a year before coming to terms with the fact I needed a team of co-founders if I wanted to get anywhere. That’s a lot of opportunity cost to pay simply to preserve one’s pride.

Whenever I tell that story I find most people have one of two reactions, either this all sounds incredibly obvious to you, or you nevertheless believe you’re an exception to the rule. It’s the second category that I’m most concerned about. I still see very smart and capable entrepreneurs make this mistake today. More often then not the result is that they turn their companies into the living dead, just strolling along month after month making no significant progress just like I did. Most of these founders will never admit this to be the case not even to themselves. Every conversation with them sounds like they are right on the cusp of greatness and yet 12 months later they haven’t moved an inch.

Let me put this into perspective for you. Amazon currently employs a half a million people. There is no such thing as a billion dollar company run by a single hardheaded optimist out of a garage. If that’s your goal then you’re better off buying a lottery ticket. Your chances of success are greater and it’s the only way you’re going to get there solo.

Once I got over my pride, however, I then found two new reasons to resist growing my team: 1) not wanting to be bothered with creating a staffing plan, recruiting, managing, etc. and 2) a fear of the unknown: can I afford this person? Will I see an ROI? Will I hire the right person? etc.

It’s perfectly understandable that when you’re constantly being pulled in 500 directions it can be hard to dedicate time to HR. There’s always going to be a higher priority you’ll want to address first. I have no advice other than that you just simply need to budget time and do it. Personally, for me, that meant literally blocking out time in my calendar for such activities. Just remember, this is an investment and like any other investment the costs are upfront and the returns will take time.

The fear of the unknown is counterintuitive for an entrepreneur. If we’re being honest, I suspect this is combined with a fear of a lack of control. Like most gambles of this nature, the best way to motivate yourself is to compare the risk of taking action to the risk of taking no action. If you hire the wrong person or they don’t deliver what you need then sure that’s a tough situation to be in. Failure is a possibility. If you hire no-one, however, you destine yourself to become the living dead. Failure becomes inevitable.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +393,714 people.

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