I love being the first business hire at startups, particularly those with technical founders, where I can be their complementary executive piece and help operationalize multiple aspects of the company. At my current company, I’ve been called the company “Swiss Army Knife” and the company “Emergency Room Doctor” – I’m constantly evaluating our organization, identifying gaps in our business, and doing whatever is necessary to fill those gaps.
It’s a role that is sometimes underappreciated by founders, but immensely valuable when done correctly. I’m here to offer up what I’ve learned doing this role full time and on an advisory basis over the years, while also pulling from the vast experience of this community and the folks who are or have been in positions similar to mine.
What’s your advice for a non-technical operator coming into a new partnership with a technical founder/leadership?
- Clearly define roles & responsibilities. This may be a struggle and take more than one conversation, as founders view their company as their “baby” and may have a hard time letting go of certain responsibilities.
- Spend as much time as possible with customers to deeply understand their pain points. This increases in importance, the earlier stage you are.
- Don’t over-engineer things, just use a spreadsheet. At the early stages, being fast and nimble is critical. Spreadsheets are the quickest way to get something up and operational ASAP.
What systems/tools have you implemented (and when) that have had the greatest overall impact on your people and business?
I don’t have a dazzling answer – Asana + spreadsheets have had the most impact for us.
Do you have any other actionable tools, solutions, or advice for your fellow Operator community?
I’ve found it very helpful to think of an early-stage company as a series of experiments all happening at the same time. What’s helped us put the puzzle pieces together is making a list with 3 columns:
- what we know
- what we think we know but need to validate
- and key open questions
This becomes a kanban board for figuring out your business and helps you think along the lines of experiments: forming hypotheses, collecting data, analyzing the data, and then rejecting / validating / re-formulating those hypotheses.
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