If you’ve read anything about entrepreneurship you’ve likely come across the quote, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Managing a startup can often feel like you’re running – and fast. Sometimes there’s a fire behind you, and other times you lose sight of which way you’re even heading. I myself am on year 10 of being a startup CEO and co-founder, and the best solution I’ve come up with over the years is to constantly prioritize “going far” above all else. This mindset helps keep our business running in the right direction, even in times of turbulence.
The goal of going far or thinking long-term impacts everything from the rate at which we hire to whether or not we should move office spaces. It’s a filter through which we push all of our decisions, which means it touches nearly every aspect of our business, from the mundane to the critical.
Focusing on What Matters in a Period of Hyper-Growth
This approach is antithetical to much of what the startup tech community considers the norm. Going fast is commonly the name of the game: find product market fit or build an MVP, raise venture capital, hire like crazy, and just keep the train on the tracks at all costs. It’s way too easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of a hyper-growth operation and forget why you started your business in the first place when you’re focused on speed. Every time I reflect on what our business has achieved over the past 10 years, I realize that the long-term game plan is not a bad one at all. In fact, thinking long term can take on many forms. For me, this presents itself in two main ways, both of which directly and immediately impact my team.
Addressing Direct Consequences
First, I ask myself the following question before setting any decision in stone: “If I make this decision, will I still want to work here afterward?” As a founder, I’m obviously here for the long haul either way, but I still ask myself this question because I know that some of our employees aren’t necessarily going to see this business through to the very end. They need to feel inspired and aligned with our business decisions, day in and day out. Our people are passionate and vocal about what they like and what they would love to see changed in order to have a better work environment.
When I ask this question, it’s not about whether or not we should keep doing catered-lunch Thursdays. I’m talking about tough decisions: ones that are foundational to the business. If we choose to put a product feature on ice after a team has been working on it for three months, I need to recognize the demoralizing nature of that move and the effects it might have on team morale. I may still end up making that call, but not without mitigating team concern in a way that keeps folks excited about the next innovation we’re working on.
Identifying Employees Who Go The Extra Mile
The other way long term thinking benefits our company is its impact on hiring and career development. When it comes to hiring at our company, we’re simply not willing to make many sacrifices. We’ve made it hard to join our team because we’re not just looking for someone who’s able to complete the task at hand. Naturally, we look for individuals who we believe are capable of being super successful in their role, but beyond that, we’re looking for folks who will grow into all-around rock stars. These are the people who take extreme pride in the work that they do (and they do it for the good of the company) because they care about watching us all succeed. They’re excited to take on new challenges and innovate in ways we’ve never heard of, and might even end up managing entire teams as we grow.
We like to say, “We hire people who put away their own dishes,” because we value individuals who hold themselves accountable and aren’t above rolling up their sleeves and pitching in, whether that means putting away coffee mugs or answering a support ticket. We also like to look outside the traditional realm for new hires. For example, if we’re hiring for our customer happiness team, an applicant from Nordstrom, which is known for having incredible customer service, might be a great fit despite the fact that their background is in retail and not technology.
Making a Department Switch if Necessary
I work hard with our people operations team to listen to employees and anticipate changes folks might be looking to make in their careers. Within a startup, there are often many opportunities for growth in the non-traditional sense of the word. On occasion, we uncover new opportunities where they didn’t exist before in order to keep an awesome team member in our fold. I strive to encourage our employees to grow from within the company – somewhat selfishly, I’ll admit – so that we can all continue to benefit from their knowledge as it spreads across departments. This notion also provides tremendous benefit to our employees themselves, especially ones who are early in their careers, as they are better able to weigh their options, try something new, and carve out a future at the company.
Even though we can’t go back in time and put more people on our founding team, taking a long view of our organization and goals encourages that “go anywhere, do anything” mindset across the company. Going fast might give you some instant gratification, but it’s much less satisfying when you do it alone. We all want someone to high-five at the finish line.