Tag: lean startup

01
Feb

What’s Your Personality Type? Insights for Lean Entrepreneurs

 

The ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself” is very relevant to entrepreneurs. Most founders don’t give much thought to how their own personality type influences how well they run their startup. Remember, your reality distortion field distorts yourself too.

The good news is that for the first time since I’ve been building companies, entrepreneurs share a common framework for guiding their startups: the Lean startup

. Sure, some people don’t use the right vocabulary and misunderstand Lean. But I find that Lean thinking has permeated the entrepreneurial community, so much so that some founders are following the principles without knowing the term “lean startup” at all.

The bad news is that there’s still a huge gap between the understanding of lean startups and the practice. It’s frustrating to see and I think one reason is founders don’t take into account how their own personalities influence the process. I haven’t seen anyone ask: “How is my own personality getting in the way of being lean?

To help answer that question, I’ve created a list of the top 5 personality archetypes I come across, as well as some things to watch out for if you recognize yourself in one (or more than one) of them:

  • “Smartypants” – You’re very knowledgeable and you want people to know it. You love complexity. You believe that superior intellect and knowledge will close the sale, investment etc.
    • Watch out: you’ll ignore the simple solution (which is often the best one) in favour of something more impressive. You’ll discount what customers say because they aren’t smart enough. You’ll be attracted to innovation vs execution.
  • “Intelligent Architect” – Most engineers have this personality type. You like to build machines and you like it when they work as planned. You like the design phase of projects because there are no customers in the design phase…
    • Watch out: you’re going to be very uncomfortable when your startup is trying to find a business model vs building a product. You can’t architect a solution when you don’t know what the problem is yet. Pivots will drive you crazy because there’s nothing wrong with the code.
  • “The Advocate” – Most sales people (and almost all entrepreneurs) are strong when it comes to selling their vision or advocating what they believe in. In a meeting, especially a brainstorm, you talk rather than listen.
    • Watch out: when you’re trying to find product-market fit, you’d better hone your shutting up skills. You can’t hear your customers’ voices when you’re still talking. You already know your own position, it’s time to listen to others.
  • “The Dreamer” – I saw a pitch deck recently for a hyper-local startup. Great deck, nice screenshots, but within 5 minutes the entrepreneur admitted he probably would never use the product, nor did he think anyone else would. It’s easy to envision success IF everyone used your product. It’s harder to make it so.
    • Watch out: you get excited about building an empire but you have a blind spot when it comes to actual customers and their problems. You’ll overestimate how well your product solves their problems.
  • “Mom and Pop” – One great thing about Lean startups is that founders are getting in close proximity to customers to validate their businesses. Most people start with people they know in their community. If you’re a natural hustler, you’ve probably walked down Main Street knocking on doors and signing up beta customers.
    • Watch out: You’ll hold as proof of your business the fact you signed up 10 restaurants in your neighbourhood. Instead of using (and possibly abusing) them to test your hypotheses, you’ll want to make them happy and get pulled in many directions. Be careful you don’t lose sight of the goal. You’re trying to build a scalable business, not a local consulting company.

Spend a bit of time thinking about who you are. Better yet, ask the people around you and make sure there are no sharp objects close by. There’s no value judgment here. There are no “good” or “bad” personality types. But the sooner you recognize your own personality type(s) the sooner you can get out of your own way.

nosce te ipsum

12
Jan

Hiring for Lean Startups: The First Few Hires

 

I was having coffee with a founder the other day and we started talking about his hiring plans. Since he’s a non-technical founder (which Ben Yoskovitz claims is a dead-end to begin with) he had several top coders in mind, all of whom were earning big bucks with larger companies.

“I’m paying them a little bit of money but they’ll join full time once I can raise money,” said the founder. It’s something I hear a lot, especially from non-techie founders.

I went back to review some blog posts on Lean hiring, and I came across Eric’s post “Lean Hiring Tips” and Mark MacLeod’s “Fat Hiring for Lean Startups“. Both are worth your time. But I think they’re also written for startups that are already up and running and need to expand. I’m interested in very early stage hiring, e.g. when you’re one person looking for a co-founder or you’re two people looking for your core team.

Companies always take on the characteristics of their founders and in the rush to scale, I find many startups don’t stop to consider how they’re establishing the DNA of their company. The first few hires are the most important ones you’ll make.

  • Hire for an experimental mindset – Look for people who enjoy encountering problems, designing ways to solve them, and finding proof of success or failure. Skill at building, whether it’s software or a marketing plan or a sales funnel, is irrelevant at this point. You need people who will volunteer to scrap their plans, not fight you when you want to change course.

How? Join a hackathon, Lean Machine or just create your own (laptop + Starbucks = hackathon). Give your (potential) team a crazy challenge and see who exhibits the right behaviours.

  • Hire generalists – A lot of people will disagree with this advice. If you can find the best Python developer in the country go for it. But only if she’s also willing to cold call customers, crank out some Web site copy and help you whiteboard the business model. Your #1 focus is to find a business model that works. The latent technical talent on your bench won’t help you unless you graduate from this first phase

How? Again, hackathons are great practical tests. No matter what their skillset, look for passion about your business model and solving customer problems.

  • Prioritize UX over development – This is easier said than done since there’s a shortage of UX talent. But it’s better to have a kick-ass UX person and a mediocre developer than the other way around. UX will help you find your business model and most (good) UX people already have an experimental mindset and generalist attitude

How? Actively seek out UX people, not just developers. You may need to work at a distance if you can’t find local talent. Consider working with less experienced people if they can prove themselves through testing.

  • Get skin in the game – Leaving a six figure job to join your startup for a paycut is not skin in the game, or not enough in my books. Hire those people later when you’ve found your business model, have money in the bank, and need to scale. Skin in the game means working full time, just like you are. It means putting their reputation on the line, raising Ramen funding from friends/family/spouses and saying “I’m going to see this through until we fail.”

How? Stop feeling like you’re a poor startup that can’t afford to pay top salaries. Those aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Think of finding your co-founders like raising your first round. You need to get them excited to invest in your business.

I know this advice seems to apply better to “Web” startups than general technology startups, which is a common criticism of Lean startups in general. But I think it applies more broadly. If you hire for the right attitude, you not only solve the critical product-market fit problem, but you set the DNA of your business right from the start. I guess I haven’t seen too many examples of startups failing because they lacked a specific technical skill. They probably think they failed because of it though.

In the end, I guess “hiring” is the wrong word to begin with. You’re looking for people to co-found a business with you. You aren’t buying their skills, you’re asking them to invest in helping you shape the course of your business from the very beginning. Maybe not all of them (including yourself) will be able to scale up with the business. That’s a problem for another day.