Raising a Child and Building a Company: How Parenthood and Entrepreneurship Intersect

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parentsBuilding a company is a lot like being raising a child. This is
especially true when you get a strong pull from the market. It seems
like just yesterday we were in beta testing and now we have global
production deployments. The sentiment “they grow up so quickly” never
seemed more apt.

Just like a child in its infancy, you can see the kernel of a
company’s personality starting to form. Most of the day-to-day work
involves taking small steps that can seem daunting. Like changing
diapers, midnight feedings and temper tantrums, a company accrues
technical debt, experiences the scrambles to make it work and feels the
growing pains of doubling in size every few months. Just like parenting,
you make lots of mistakes, gain experience and hopefully learn how to
navigate the world. As a startup CEO, the key at each stage is to figure
out the right focus to have based on your phase of development, and to
transition to the next stage as quickly and with as few problems as
possible.

In many ways, companies mature in much the same way children do early
on. The life of a startup can be measured in development or event
fundraising stages, and you even follow the ABCs: There’s the seed stage
of identifying and proving out the opportunity, followed by the A stage
of building the initial version of the product, the B stage of
developing a scalable go to market, the C stage of scaling and beyond.
Although each phase has its own challenges, understanding best practices
and knowing what to expect at each phase is crucial to achieving
success.

Having served as an executive at several startups, I’ve found life at
the B stage can be most challenging because it’s where a company shifts
from the uncertainty of the early years to the repeatable process that
allows a company to grow and flourish.

As a Series B CEO, the day-to-day life feels a lot like raising a
toddler in the throes of the terrible twos. On one hand, the company has
figured out how to do many things on its own. We have a good handle on
our market, we understand the ins and outs of our product, we have
enthusiastic customers, and different departments are learning to work
both independently and collaboratively. But there are also many things
that the company still has to figure out. The organizational structure
is more complex than it was a few months ago and it’s natural for a CEO
to lag the organizational changes and to stay focused on fixing every
little problem long after the company needs it. Of course, there are
always the occasional temper tantrums, usually induced by lack of food
or sleep.

The difference between CEOs who successfully navigate the terrible
twos and those who get consumed by them is in how they handle this
transition period. The most successful Series B CEOs are focused on
where to go next and trust their teams to navigate the uncertainties
that still naturally arise. Naturally, there are points in time when you
need to weigh in, like when the product team drifts from the vision
when the sales team starts chasing deals that don’t fit any discernible
pattern, and when marketing throws their hands in the air because they
feel like they’re running in circles. These are small course corrections
and can often be addressed by reminding the team of the company vision,
and helping them figure out how to map their work to that vision. “You
need to eat your veggies to grow big and strong” equates to “You need to
sell the business value because we’re building a repeatable process.”

As a first-time CEO, the hardest part of being at the Series B stage
has been figuring out the execution timeline for this transition. Like a
parent anxiously watching the development of their child and looking
forward to the next big milestone, I struggled daily to judge the time
that it took to get our footing. The entire transition from Series A
newborn to Series C pre-adolescents requires calculating how quickly to
put capital to work, given very little data about market adoption, while
putting enough resources to work in the right places. It’s impossible
to get perfect even if there was a “right” way — which there isn’t.

As a parent as well as a startup CEO, staying focused is key. And
just like raising a child, I’ve realized that it takes tremendous
discipline to maintain focus on what the company needs most in each
phase. I’ve seen many companies lose confidence during this transition
from childhood to adolescence, and start to meander away from the big
picture. This is precisely when the company needs a strong vision and
aggressive — but achievable — goals. The deep understanding of our
vision, which we take for granted early on when all our hopes and dreams
are so clear, is not yet imbued in the developing company. It’s easy to
get distracted trying to solve all the problems that came up back when
the vision was obvious and everything was easy to fix. In the B to C
transition, I’ve seen the best CEOs let their team find its way through
the growing pains and keep reminding them where they are going and why.
Before you know it, you will have survived the terrible twos. It’s then
that you realize the journey has only just begun.

(Omer Trajman is CEO of Rocana,
which sets out to address the challenges of driving transformation and
managing large, enterprise infrastructure using modern technology that
leverages the Big Data ecosystem for unmatched scalability and openness.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.)

(SOURCE: TCA)