Great post Kaitlyn! I think founders should put a post-it with these points on their desk to be constantly reminded. In addition to what you’ve laid out, wanted to add another point along similar lines. Founders should beware of complacency creeping in post unicorn status. Once you have reached the unicorn status, I feel like the media and even practically everyone around you brand you as a success. The positive coverage, continuous congratulations you receive drive you to become intoxicated (figuratively and literally) by your success to date. Attaining a unicorn status is no easy task, but it will be more difficult to grow and deliver the returns investors expect as more companies will challenge you to displace your company in the market. The founders should continually remind themselves and their employees that the unicorn status is just another milestone, and that they should keep focus until the mission they set out to do is accomplished.
Great post! I have seen many entrepreneurs who just define their individual brands based on whether they are successful (huge exit) or not. The “personal brand” angle you’ve laid out broadens the lens on how people may view you as an entrepreneur, seemingly tying it closer to the definition of what a “good leader” should be. Entrepreneurs should not forget the fact that they are leaders, and therefore should make effort to understand what are required to become a good leader. Once entrepreneurs understand and take actions accordingly, I believe a good personal brand will naturally follow.
I agree with the three factors you’ve laid out as key to failing well. To add a comment on transparency, there are pros and cons but my thoughts are the entrepreneur should be transparent about operations and finance from the onset of the company. Transparency allows the employees to build a trust-based relationship with the founder. As opposed to being distracted, it will give them the basis to focus more on what’s important for the company. Those who are distracted and who are not able to handle the ups and downs of a start-up life may not be suited for the company, and it may be better for them to leave rather then staying on and being a source of instability. On a personal level for the employees, by understanding the on-going situation, they will be able to make better adjustments to their risk exposure (e.g. timing of buying a house) compared to being given all the info with only a few weeks left before the company shuts down.
Great post Vibin. We don’t hear a lot about intrapreneurship, but I agree with you that intrapreneurship should also be considered as a valid option for those aspiring to become an entrepreneur.
The company I worked at before HBS had an intrapreneurship program where you could launch your own start-up internally as long as the product you are proposing was within the broader boundaries of the company’s mission. Every month, there was an open pitch-off where aspiring “intrapreneurs” would propose their ideas to a large group of peers and executives who would judge and rate your idea. If selected as one of the top teams, you would have 3 months to build your proof of concept with some resource support from the company. You would then go through another pitch-off, after which if selected, receive one year of resource support (fixed amount of “investment”, space, back-office support, internal talent recruitment etc.) to fully develop the product and launch commercially. You are given a lot of independence and not really impacted by internal politics.
Although you don’t have the equity upside of an outside start-up, this is a “safer” way to fulfill your entrepreneurial aspirations and make a difference through your vision(product).
I agree with your post from the perspective that there many instances where the VCs are too quick to replace the founder-CEO because they do not fit the profile of a person that can scale. Profiling could be a way for the VCs to mitigate their risks, but I also think that it can limit the potential of a company whose future for becoming a game-changer depends on the vision and drive of the founder-CEO. Many of the great entrepreneurs we know today, such as Steve Jobs, probably would not fit the profile as someone with operational expertise that can scale the company.
Great post. Layoff decisions are one of the most difficult ones to make, and what’s even more difficult is the actual process of going through the layoffs. Your post provides a good guiding framework, especially your first point “cut deep, and cut once”. I’ve seen many companies that were afraid of the impact of pushing for large layoffs, opting instead to fire small groups of people over an extended period of time. This actually worsened internal morale, since people saw the pattern of layoffs, and feared that they will be the next ones to go. “Cut deep, and cut once” approach should solve for this, as long as the founder communicates to those not impacted by the layoffs to ensure that the layoff is occurring only “once”, at least in the foreseeable future.
With that said, it would be good to add a point that talks about post-layoff internal communications – how to alleviate fears of additional layoffs and bring company morale back to “normal” after a mass layoff.