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Entrepreneurship is a deeply personal endeavour, especially for founder-CEOs who must believe in their companies above anything else. Indeed, a startup is not terribly different from parenting, in that thousands of hours are spent nurturing children and and helping them to grow.
In both the result is a strong attachment; in startups, the attachment is inherent in every step of the building process.
Early on, it’s the details that capture a founder’s attention: the logo, the elevator pitch, the sales decks. Later, it’s the product that founder-CEOs tend to agonise over and tightly control.
Once you’ve found the ideal product-market fit for your company, however, there is something else you must do: let go.
To understand what this means, imagine what would have happened had Larry Page and Sergey Brin continued to work to improve their search algorithm for Google – rather than build a business off their technology with AdWords. Sure, they’d still have the best search engine in the world, but without the business model, they wouldn’t be able to stay independent or thrive.
Alternatively, had Mark Zuckerberg not evolved into a great CEO and just continued writing code and running the dev team, Facebook might have become another MySpace rather than a $200 billion company.
Once a company’s founder gets attached, the company encounters its greatest obtacle: making sure that the founder-CEO backs off enough to scale his or her job duties in lockstep with the company’s evolving demands.
As a serial entrepreneur and angel investor myself, I have learned that as a company finds its product market-fit and gains customers, the greatest skill a CEO can demonstrate is to to get out of his or her own way and let go.
Here are three areas which a budding CEO should focus on less after finding his or her best product-market fit:
1. Let go of responsibilities that are not yours
The hardest part of being a successful CEO is learning to let go of specific job functions you’ve grown to enjoy, and bestowing that responsibility and trust in your team. Needless to say, if you’re a first-time founder CEO, your expertise is in something other than being a CEO.
So, you have to be ready to let your earlier expertise or preferences go and take on CEO-only tasks, especially the development of a clear vision and a strategic leadership, and the management of growth.
Another consideration is that once the company is growing, and you’re looking to hire and offload some of this responsibility, you should look for people who are not going to do the job exactly as you would.
Instead, surround yourself with great people who bring different experiences, fresh thinking and opinions to the table, and who are complementary (not identical) to your style. Let go of your own ego by encouraging questioning and independence.
2. Let go of the product
Early-stage founder-CEOs (especially those who come from a product background) will be drawn to micro-managing their product teams. This is often counter-productive and leads to hobbled, ineffective PMs, who are not given the creative latitude to try interesting things.
The danger is even stronger if the company’s initial product, created by the founder-CEO, is in the market and doing really well, as the CEO will likely have a higher opinion of his or her own product prowess.
This is an especially controversial point in Silicon Valley, where VCs want their CEOs to be obsessed with product. Once growth starts, however, this obsession can really hold a company back.
While founders should continue to be involved and hyper aware of the product and strategic direction, they should allow their PMs to thrive.
Obviously, some products won’t find their fit, so it’s important for CEOs in those companies to constantly analyse and judge whether the potential for a breakout product is even there. These leaders should distance themselves enough to see the big picture and pull the plug or pivot on an idea, if necessary.
3. Let go of day-to-day business functions
The first 10 to 15 initial hires are incredibly important for a startup, and the founder-CEO should be heavily involved in screening and hiring decisions. However, once you go beyond that number, it is too much of a time sink as founder for you to be involved in finding the best people.
In fact, as the company reaches a certain size, the CEO should not be thinking at all about day-to-day business functions, like HR, accounting and finance.
Someone else needs to make sure there’s water in the water cooler. Certainly, the CEO has to focus on keeping the lights on, but someone else should replace the light bulbs.
The reason is that the CEO needs room to grow with the company and focus on vision and strategic direction. Getting bogged down in these details will only hurt.
What the founder-CEO should focus on instead
Let’s say that the company’s strategy and vision have been set. Say that there is an initial product in the market, and the company is seeing growth. Now it’s time for the CEO to focus on accelerating that growth via sales and marketing, and optimisation of the company’s market strategy.
At a startup, the CEO must also constantly have his or her pulse on fund-raising. If substantial revenue has not yet been generated, or is trickling in, the company should be preparing for the next round.
Fund-raising really is a full-time job and, at most startups never stops. So, make sure you have room in your day to day to focus on this priority.
Finally, the CEO should constantly be checking in with team members to make sure the company vision is clear. There is nothing more draining than a vision that is either unclear or changes all the time.
For the founder-CEO of a growing startup, then, the priority should be on flexibility and the drive to continue through constant change. The one thing that will keep that founder sane will be an ability to focus on what is most important and let go of the rest.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
6 Timeless Strategies That Drive Successful Entrepreneurship
Adhere to these key principles to build a high-growth company amid changing circumstances.
In today’s ever changing business climate, an entrepreneur can easily become overwhelmed. It’s vital, though, to stay focused on your goals for the company.
Even with a firm strategy in place, every entrepreneur should do these six things to clear a path to success:
1Study the competition
As an entrepreneur, you need to know who your competitors are. You also should understand the rival product or service that is being offering.
This knowledge will help you better market your product or service to stand out, perhaps even using your competition’s weaknesses to your advantage.
2Conserve cash no matter how good business is
Frankly put, live as cheaply as possible.
Entrepreneurs should be as conservative with their money as possible to be able to deal with any rough patch that arises. Conserving several months’ worth of operating expenses in the bank will help you survive most unforeseen circumstances.
3Research new products and services
Understand emerging products or services on the horizon that could improve your company’s operations.
Do your homework.
- Are you taking advantage of all technology has to offer?
- Is there an app that could help you manage your time more efficiently or a service that lets you delegate ordinary tasks to free up more time for priority projects?
4Don’t tackle huge markets at first
Avoid expanding into large markets in the initial stages. Thinking “if we can capture just 1 percent of China” could turn into a mistake. Niche marketing can be extremely cost effective if you keep three things in mind: Meet the market’s unique needs by offering something new and compelling. Speak the market’s language and understand its hot buttons.
Your language should be in synch with that niche even for the minor aspects of a marketing campaign like the company’s slogan.
5Listen to customer feedback and adapt
Salespeople know the adage “always be closing,” referred to by the acronym ABC. Entrepreneurs have an acronym, too: Always be adapting, or ABA.
But entrepreneurs can evolve their business only when they’re listening to customer feedback. It may not mean much if one customer doesn’t like your product but if this is true for many of them and they’re requesting another feature, listen and be ready to adapt.
Whether you’re adapting your marketing plan, simplifying a product or responding to new trends, pay attention to customer feedback. Be all ears.
6Respond to change
In business change is inevitable and those capable of responding are flexible and versatile.
An entrepreneur must be prepared to accept change and adapt business operations accordingly. Be flexible. If a shift in your product or service is warranted, don’t be left behind. Realize from the start that where you are is likely not to be where you’ll end up. A lack of adaptability can result in loss in customers, profits and even business failure.
As an entrepreneur, understand that the world is evolving rapidly. Even a company founded a year ago could change the world today.
Yes, the world customarily commends big players like Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. Yet there’s room for everyone in the game. Entrepreneurship in emerging markets could very well be a major factor in the return of a hearty global economy. Why couldn’t you be a part of that change?
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Yellowwood Future Architects Are Helping Their Clients Understand The New Future
The world is changing. And young, digitally-savvy consumers are becoming an increasingly large and powerful segment. So how should your business adapt to the changing face of the consumer landscape?
- Player: David Blyth
- Position: CEO
- Company: Yellowwood Future Architects
- Established: 1997
- What they do: Yellowwood is a South African marketing strategy consultancy. It helps clients find top line growth for their businesses by offering strategic focus and insight into customers.
- Visit: www.ywood.co.za
Yellowwood Future Architects specialises in helping its clients understand their customers. It is a crucial task, since no organisation can survive long-term if if doesn’t have a deep understanding of the people who buy its products and services.
But even companies that pay great attention to their customers can find themselves struggling to understand the mindset of the modern consumer. Why is that? Well, the consumer landscape is changing drastically, especially in Africa.
“Globally, the youth market is the largest the world has ever seen, and Africa has the majority of these young people. According to the latest census figures, South Africa’s 15 to 34-year-olds total in the region of 19,5 million, or 37,6% of the total population of 51,7 million. By comparison, South Africa’s Generation Xers (the 37 to 56-year-olds) number under 12 million. With direct youth spend in South Africa sitting at a hefty R130 billion per annum, marketers need to sit up and take notice of the youth market. “They are not just ‘the future’ as we are often told — they are ’the now’,” says Yellowwood CEO David Blyth.
This means that no company can afford to ignore the youth market. As Blyth says, they are having a profound effect on the economy already, and this influence will only grow as they age.
So what does this new generation look like? What are their wants and needs? And what do they expect of the brands and companies they interact with?
They want relevant marketing
The days when consumers could be seen as passive receivers of marketing materials are over. Young consumers expect the right information at the right time. They don’t want to be spammed with information that’s not relevant to them, but they do want information to be instantly available when necessary.
They have a lot of disposable income
Young consumers have a surprising amount of disposable income. How so? They live with their parents longer than previous generations did, and they often rent instead of buy.
“We are seeing a shift in how young people spend their money. Many of them aren’t paying a bond or monthly car instalments, which gives them more disposable income,” says Blyth. “Depending on your industry, this can have a profound effect on your business.”
They demand authenticity
“Don’t try to be cool,” says Blyth. “Young consumers want brands to be real — they don’t want to be fed an inauthentic marketing line.” According to Blyth, they want to be approached on equal terms.
They want value
“Brands are important,” says Blyth. “But we are also seeing that young consumers want value. Brand alone isn’t enough. There is simply too much choice out there these days. Combine this with an uncertain economy, and a unique value offering becomes critical.”
They want dialogue
As mentioned earlier, young consumers aren’t willing to be the passive recipients of marketing material. These days, engagement is key.
“Thanks to platforms like Twitter and Instagram, consumers have a loud voice,” says Blyth. “And they aren’t afraid to use it. They will let you know if they’re unhappy, and they will expect you to respond. They want two-way conversation.”
They are socially conscious
“Young consumers are very socially conscious. They care about social issues and the environment. So it goes without saying that they expect companies and brands to care about these things as well,” says Blyth.
They are complicated
Perhaps the defining characteristic of the youth market is its inability (and unwillingness) to be pigeonholed and broadly defined. Young consumers are incredibly complex in their wants, needs and demands.
They can appear self-centred and very focused on instant gratification, but research has also shown that they are incredibly concerned about the future, and very conscious of social and environmental issues.
What this means is that the days of approaching marketing in a linear way are over. The world is becoming more complex, consumers are becoming more demanding, and companies have no choice but to keep up.
Never assume that you know your customer. Customer research should be an ongoing activity. The world is changing quickly, and companies need to keep up. They need to evolve at the same speed as their consumers.
Developing Your Business’s Ethics Policy
It’s not enough to have a vision statement and values; you have to integrate them into your company’s culture.
Definition: Business ethics is the study of proper business policies and practices regarding potentially controversial issues, such as corporate governance, insider trading, bribery, discrimination, corporate social responsibility and fiduciary responsibilities. – Investopedia
In training values and ethics, many “what if” scenarios should be developed so that employees can learn to react to possibilities.
Once you have defined what’s acceptable and what is not, plan how the organisation will respond to employees who do the right thing. For example, if someone makes a business decision that is consistent with organisational ethics, but causes the company to lose business, show that person as a positive example.
Next, examine negative situations. Most lying in organisations isn’t for personal gain but to avoid embarrassing consequences.
If you frequently take success for granted and consistently punish failure, you can count on people changing the numbers to look better than they should, blaming others for their mistakes or hiding errors.
In summary, you should:
- Specifically define values and ethics as they relate to suppliers, customers and employees.
- Train employees using realistic examples relating to your own business.
- Examine how you respond to success and failure. within your organisation.
- Reinforce all who make an improvement, not just a select few.
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