You win some you lose some. That still seems to be our prevailing attitude towards startups. We think we know the ingredients to startup success yet we happily accept that most startups fail. We never look deeper and attempt to replicate the skillful management that is the true ingredient to startup success. The thing is we’re too focused on the Ubers and Airbnb’s to pay attention to how ordinary startups are built to reach the 5-50 M€ revenue level. If you can achieve that you’re more likely to build the next Uber anyway.
We should start paying closer attention to improving entrepreneurs’ management skills. Startups don’t fail or succeed because they did one thing right, they succeed because the entrepreneurs managed to get a million things right and complete the puzzle on time. Startups only go as far as the entrepreneurs can take them. Why aren’t we doing more to develop founders’ management skills then? Entrepreneurship is a collection of theories, but it’s not a management science for building and running growth companies. Where are all the MBA’s aimed at startups? The grim reality is that there is no management science for startups it’s every founder on their own learning by failing.
The key to making startups more manageable and therefore more successful lies in having one individual who rises and becomes the leader willing to personally assume the overall responsibility for everything – really everything be it good or bad. To get to declare timing as your key to success, the chief entrepreneur has had to make more tough calls than most business people in a lifetime making that person alone the most decisive factor in a startup’s success. For every positive outcome, an entrepreneur has had to deal with at least 20 problems and failing to fix that one thing in time might just be the factor that launches the avalanche that buries the whole startup.
We have been so focused on teams overall that we’ve completely forgot that everything in a startup is actually riding on one individual and one individual alone. A startup cannot succeed without a team but even more profoundly a startup cannot exist without a chief entrepreneur. In a startup with several co-founders, the chief entrepreneur is the person that takes on the CEO position during the first 3-5 years of the company’s life and has the final responsibility for everything. It’s a lonely and tiresome job and if handled badly will cause irreparable damage to the startup. It’s by developing the chief entrepreneur role into a management position that we can start producing more successful startups.
Founders often take cover behind corporate titles like CEO, CMO and CDO pretending that they have an ordinary job. Running a startup might bare similarities with running a company, but really the difference is like walking a dog versus walking a tiger. The slightest confusion of just running a tame company puts everything at risk. As the entrepreneur, you’re not only running a company you’re building one so you can’t be just a CEO, you have to rise above and be a Chief Entrepreneur Officer (CEnO).
The CEnO is an entrepreneur and a management professional who first of all understands the extreme challenge that managing a startup poses and accepts the position willingly. S/he keeps relentlessly improving both the startup and his/her own management capabilities to ensure that there is a plan B if and when plan A fails and it always does. The CEnO is the company’s architect, construction supervisor and interior designer all at once giving an idea of just how difficult a job it is. It’s just as much about finding new paths as it is about staying alive in rocky waters and being on deck to give a hand with the sails. It really is three dimensional as it consists of discovery, execution and improvement all of which have their own departments and management professionals in corporations. Embodying all those functions in one person at beginning of a company’s life ensures that management doesn’t get the better of doing. Too much focus on management is equally hurtful and the CEnO is therefore vital in helping the team focus on execution.
To be a good CEnO you don’t have to master everything, but you must have enough knowledge about core startup functions to be able to make accurate decisions and find timely solutions in order to prevent the avalanche and navigate the team to safer and faster slopes. The core functions of startups are:
5. Growth; and
In the coming months, I will be posting extensively about each core startup function and thereby develop startup entrepreneurship into a management position called the Chief Entrepreneur Officer. I hope to get as many comments and ideas about how to improve those as I don’t assume to get it all right immediately.
Hope you enjoy enough to keep following and discussing to fix this major black hole in our know-how of startups.
Ola Sundell, Chief Entrepreneur Officer @HUB13