Building a software startup from 0 to 200 million users with revenues the size of a small country’s GDP took a lot of effort, iteration, and innovation, but we did it. As Head of Product for my boss, the CEO, and founder, I was a driving force behind most of our achievements.
Over the five-year journey of explosive growth, I came to understand just how drastically important it was that you not rely on yourself for everything. This might seem counterintuitive, especially to someone (possibly you) who has a very can-do, unstoppable attitude when it comes to work and entrepreneurship. However, believing that you, and only you, are the person for the job — whether in your career or home life — can have negative effects on your mind and body, and create interpersonal problems with colleagues, friends, and family. Dr. Jonathan D. Quick, in “Preventive Stress Management in Organizations”, presents research that shows micromanaging bosses and their employees have more health problems, and even higher chances of death overall.
I worked with my CEO to actively mitigate this over the years and we found that there was one primary focal point that made the biggest difference: Controlling the inner circle of people who you spend the most time with. By wisely choosing the people we rely on, work most closely with, and gain social value from, we were able to better master our own goals and reduce negative effects of the long, stressful hours it took to grow the startup.
The steps we took, in roughly the same order we took them, were:
Recognize the problems at hand.
In the earliest days of the business, the buck stopped with the two of us. We both wore several hats, and both worked across the board on all facets of the company: programming, web development, content production, marketing, community development. In the first year +, both of us also had “day jobs”. We would work 8-9 hours, and then work another 6-8 hours on our startup efforts. While the day jobs were Monday-Friday gigs, those 6-8 hours for the startup ALSO happened nearly every day of every weekend, as well. 85+ hour weeks were the norm.
So when revenue began streaming in and we were able to hire, we did so. Soon we left our day jobs behind and were working fewer hours in a day, but twice as hard to make sure we kept growing. The old habits of working on every aspect of the startup didn’t go away. We found ourselves beginning to micromanage the 2, then 5, then 10, and before long 30+ employees working with us.
When we heard the first whispers of the word “micromanaging” we knew it was time to change. Not only were we seeing morale issues arise, but we felt the stress just continuing to build up even as success increased. We should have felt better and been happier, but that just wasn’t the case. Something was wrong.
Create a detailed list of what you need help with.
This is where we had to be both introspective and also step back to get the eagle’s eye view of our situations. Writing lists for known quantities isn’t very hard. You have tasks, and they all need specific steps to reach completion. But making a list based on everything about both your internal and external lives can be difficult.
Begin with the issues you found in our first step above. Then dive deeper: What is really hurting you — physically, psychologically, emotionally? What are you doing that hurts OTHER people? What actions (or inactions) are causing undue stress in your life? What do you need to do better? What can you do better?
Soon, you will be amazed and impressed by how much you can come to realize by doing this. I know I was. And the best thing is that almost all of these problems can be mitigated, if not outright solved, by figuring out who in your life needs to, and can, be in the right place at the right time.
Choose your top-3.
Step two could also be called “delegate”. It works in a business setting and also in your personal life. Now, at 50 employees, I had a good idea of not only who was good at specific tasks, but also who would be best to work with me. I picked someone who would be my marketing guru, someone to be my programming expert, and someone to be the creative director. They weren’t just great at their jobs, though. They were also people I could learn from and who challenged me. If I was wrong, they’d let me know. If I was right, they’d help me figure out an even better way to do things.
In my personal life, my top-3 already existed. After reevaluating them, I realized I didn’t need to make changes there. They were my wife, my brother, and my best friend of 15+ years. These were the people I could pretty much talk to about anything (with only a few specific areas reserved just for each of them).
Your top-3 people in each area of your life are your inner circle. You have to be able to trust them and rely on them to do what they say they’re going to do. They should be BETTER than you at a lot of stuff. They should keep you on your toes but still have your best interests in mind.
It was around this time, once I had just begun to think I had it figured out when I came to another conclusion:
There is more than one inner circle…
We found that to really get things humming along well, you need your top-3, that inner circle, to exist for 4 areas: professional, family (relatives), friends, and the “aspirational” side of your life. The first three are self-explanatory. While before I had always lumped family with friends into my personal life, I realized it was best to separate them so that I could concentrate more on keeping a healthy work-life balance.
By “aspirational” I am referring to your professional network — mentors, people from other fields you look up to, other entrepreneurs. These are not folks you work with every day. They are the people you aspire to be more like, who inspire you and who you have regular contact with. You might have a friend or even family member who falls into this category, but they may not necessarily be in your top-3 for those categories.
What matters most about those in your inner circle(s) is that they complement you, make you a better person, generally make you feel better around them, and don’t create a negative atmosphere.
With the right people surrounding you, you can accomplish almost anything, and stay healthy and happy while doing so.
Thank you for reading and sharing.