Three female CEOs give countless tips to scale your startup
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Left: Andrea Darabos; Top right: María Fernanda González; Bottom right: Lisette Sutherland

Before you go ahead and hire the first employees beyond the founding team, you are in some of the most frenetic moments of your entire life. Here are some tips to succeed

“All startups need to think about the team and management early on. They need to start early because they set the culture.”

That’s how my conversation with lean and agile coach to startups Andrea Darabos began.

Andrea Darabos. Photo Credit: LinkedIn

Andrea Darabos. Photo Credit: LinkedIn

And I definitely know it to be true. I’ve worked with a lot of startups — some with no culture, some with the misconception that a relaxed dress code is culture, and the rare few that just got it.

When it’s time for startups to begin to grow past the founding team, that’s a time to rejoice because you are becoming part of the few, the proud that are starting to generate revenues or at least regular customers. However, before you go ahead and hire those newcomers, you are in some of the most frenetic moments of your entire life.

And these first decisions will echo throughout the entire history of your company. This is the moment when you start making decisions about who you hire, how you hire and how you want to distribute payment. This is when you set the rhythm not only for how transparent you are now, but also how you want to be. You also decide for the foreseeable future who will be in charge of making which decisions.

Okay, you understand: This moment of transition is insanely important. Now let’s dive into how to manage it all within your bootstrapped, time-starved life.

Who makes decisions? How will we delegate?

While you don’t have time to do it all, are you ready to give up control? Well, you don’t really have a choice. Work with your founders to create a delegation board. This is where you reflect on what the major decisions your company has to make are —both day-to-day and the more big picture items — and then you decide how much decision-making power you want to give to whom, based on these seven levels of delegation:

1. Tell: You dictate what should be done.

2. Sell:  You decide, but try to convince them.

3. Consult: You value their opinion, but make the last call.

4. Agree: Everyone has an equal say.

5. Advise: They decide, but take your opinion into account.

6. Inquire: They decide, but should try to convince you.

7. Delegate: They decide, irrespective if you know or not.

Salaries may be a 1 or a 2, while the new logo may be a 5 or 6. You can even turn it into a game of delegation poker where everyone throws down their thoughts. Afterwards, like with all important role-defining decisions, try to make it clear to all team members and a part of your on-boarding process. Try to display it prominently with fun decals and colors so everyone is in the loop.

Should you get an MBA?

You can absolutely get a masters in entrepreneurship — you’ll certainly make a lot of contacts and read some wise words, but, oh yeah, you aren’t rolling in money nor time. That being said, you can definitely try to train yourself by reading some good books of those you admire. Or, better yet, you can learn from those who have. Do you have a mentor yet? If not, make sure to find someone who complements your business model and has at least five more years of experience in startups than you. If you have one already, they should be trying to broaden your network by introducing you to more people you can learn from.

What’s the biggest risk of failure?

Actually, you are. As Darabos says, “The most common problems are with founders. How do they decide who to hire and who to bring into the business for a partner. This is the main reason of failing as startup.”

With everything you do, she says that it’s essential to refocus on and communicate your vision. You need to communicate with your team “to understand the vision, why they are here, and why as a team they are working together.”

Darabos recommends a Work Expo or Innovation Expo as an important tool to clarify this vision. A Work Expo is a visual display of “What are we building here, why, what does purpose mean for us.” Not meant to be a secret, these words should be reflected in your mission statement online and in a visual representation on a prominent wall where you not only have internal meetings but also welcome your clients and business partners.

Other than focusing on vision — or forgetting to — you need to work hard amongst yourself, your founders, and any other new C-level members you bring on to make sure you are following that vision, particularly in how you communicate amongst yourselves.

When you’re small and growing, hiring should be your biggest priority

Maria Fernanda Gonzalez, CEO of MOCA Platform. Photo Credit: LinkedIn

Maria Fernanda Gonzalez, CEO of MOCA Platform. Photo Credit: LinkedIn

We’ve already offered you tips for finding the right next team member and some tools to help you do it all. But I could not wait to share a tip that the CEO of one of my favorite startups MOCA Platform offered for how she recommends finding the right person for the right job. Maria Fernanda Gonzalez essentially says to trust your instinct. She’s looking for people who work toward excellence and like to work. “You only have fun when you like what you do and are good at what you do,” she told us.

But, since everyone is on their best behavior during an interview, how can you really tell if your hunch is right? Gonzalez asks this question: How do you solve problems within a team? She says from this you can find out a lot about someone — whether he or she is a leader or not, likes to work with others or prefers to work solo, and, of course, how they are when things get tough.

Because, when it comes down to it, “Talent is important but a good attitude is even better.”

A team agreement acts as mutual ground rules

Lisette Sutherland, founder of Collaboration Superpowers. Photo Credit: LinkedIn

Lisette Sutherland, founder of Collaboration Superpowers. Photo Credit: LinkedIn

“Startups, distributed or on-site, can decrease misunderstandings by getting together and discussing a basic set of guidelines for how they want to work together,” recommended Lisette Sutherland, founder of Collaboration Superpowers, while training for distributed and remote teams. “This includes figuring out how you will know what everyone is doing, how you will communicate with each other, and what kind of information you need to get work done.”

A team agreement can be for your entire small business or for smaller teams as you grow. It is a mutually agreed-upon, living outline of how you will communicate (tools, etc) and how regularly, and an outline of expectations you have collectively as a team for each other. This does not get into individual roles at all but can include different expectations, depending on if someone is part-time or full-time.

Plan to be transparent … or not

Being open and transparent is a great way of attracting talent to your startup, or deterring it. I worked for a startup that seemed cool because it allowed everyone to name their own salary, but that turned out to be abusive, taking advantage of those that didn’t think well enough of themselves to ask for more. Plus, everyone made such different salaries and we were told to keep it all a secret.

To the contrary, when Buffer the social media app published their salaries online, they actually saw double the applications. This isn’t because they necessarily paid above average but, like Clinton’s “I did not inhale,” people had secrets and lies. Buffer even blogs about what management decisions they make, who is on their team, and what their preferences are.

If you don’t feel ready to be honest about exact salaries, be sure to publish salary ranges publicly and see the type of honest folks you attract to your team.

Other things to worry about?

As your startup starts to grow, you need to think about how you structure your projects or teams, and what roles or positions you could take. In a growing startup, the work changes day-to-day, so I recommend instead of giving rigid job titles and descriptions, have people contribute where they can and where they take interest, not just in a box where they were hired. Instead of giving out job titles, give out project credits where you recognize everyone as much as you can for what they do.

And, remember, when there’s a mix of celebration, experimentation and learning, your company is more likely to flourish. As Darabos said, you need to figure out early on how you go about failure, “which is so important for a startup because they need to fail a dozen times before they get it right.”

The views expressed are of the author.

Geektime invites global tech and startup professionals to share their opinions and expertise with our readers. If you would like to share your point of view, please contact us at [email protected]

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Jennifer Riggins

About Jennifer Riggins


Jennifer Riggins is a New Jersey Girl in Barcelona, a marketing consultant with a passion for helping start-ups better sell the benefits they have to offer and individuals build their personal brand, from messaging to marketing to website to pitching.

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