Don’t be put off!! It may be a culture change, but taking all of your skills and experience to a fast moving entrepreneurial business, where decisions can be made in an instant and your results clear can be the most satisfying thing you ever do!
Peter Tichbon is management Consultant and Interim Executive in Strategy, Sales, Marketing, Ops, S&OP & Logistics across Blue Chip and Private Equity, he kindly wrote 2 articles for us, this first one is based on the experience of moving into a fast-growing start-up. Here’s what he had to say.
So you’ve had enough of working for a big corporate, and have decided that it’s time for something a bit more varied and interesting. Time to take your experience the world of exciting early stage, fast growth businesses who are more cutting-edge, innovative and nimble- either on your own, or as part of a much small, boutique consultancy where you really feel part of things.
You obviously have all the tools and experience and know what good looks like, so how hard can it be? Surely a fast growth, founder-led business can’t really be all that much different to working with more mature and established business?
Well along with the invigorating culture of enterprise, early stage, fast growth businesses also come with a few of challenges you need to be ready for.
Firstly they rarely have (or have ever had!) a foundation of coherent structures and processes to build upon. This is entirely understandable. When you have a team of one or two all mucking in, structures are unimportant and formal processes are barely necessary as communication is simple and the role that each plays in the success of the business is understood. Sitting down and sketching out a future strategy could be waste of effort when they don’t even know whether they have a viable or scalable business, and once they find success, everyone is too busy getting on with things. In fact, haven’t they been just fine so far without all that nonsense? They just get on with it and see what happens, and despite lack of planning, it’s the best ideas that grow organically regardless.
Secondly, they are often still led by their founders who by their very nature are passionate, driven people who have an inbuilt bias for action. In a small business, they make every decision- because they can. Shuffling paper and talking about strategy is not where they enjoy spending their time- they’re far too busy with their sleeves rolled up mucking in on the shop floor or passionately pursuing the next big idea or products to be sitting around in meetings.
The final thing to consider is that the likely catalyst for a consultant to join the business is often to do with either courting or satisfying investors, and not necessarily because the founder wants or believes in what you are there to do.
Investors often bring about a culture change: rather than being content with the simple passion for product that the business started with, equity investors want to feel some comfort around the risk they have taken and want to see their cash being used wisely to drive return on investment. Suddenly the founder can find themselves spending all their time problem solving, planning and managing in a rapidly expanding business (or worse resisting all 3), when they really want to be spending their time on product and customers. At the same time, they’re not keen on someone else coming in to “tell them what to do” or to “stifle creativity with bureaucracy”.
But it’s at this point your phone rings.
If you’re lucky the investors and founder agree that outside help is needed. Time to get organised, get some process and structure in place and to figure out a plan. But don’t expect the founder to embrace your passion for process, and don’t be surprised that the reason you’re there might be not because the founder wanted you, but because the investors insisted on it.
So this isn’t your usual politics: rather than your appointment having a lead sponsor who will help you overcome sources of resistance, you can find yourself in the middle between a founder and investors both with a very different idea of why you are there and what they need you to do.
So my advice:
- Don’t think that because this is a much smaller and simpler business than you’re used to that this is going to be easy.
- Make sure you are comfortable being a team of one. With things still in early stages of growth, there’s very unlikely to be in-house legal, HR or analytical resources, so you’ll be working with little support. If needed, you may have to do whatever you can yourself, or convince the client to buy them in.
- Be prepared to keep selling long beyond when you start. Just because you’ve got the gig, doesn’t mean the founder and his team buy into it! Don’t be surprised if you need to convince people of the benefits of having a strategy and a plan to deliver it.
- Be ready to start from nothing- try not to look surprised if they can’t give you an answer when you ask what they want to achieve. Be able to bring suitable base tools with you.
- Don’t be surprised to be pulled in different directions by different stakeholders. Managing two agendas might be your biggest challenge!
Finally, don’t be put off!! It may be a culture change, but taking all of your skills and experience to a fast moving entrepreneurial business, where decisions can be made in an instant and your results clear can be the most satisfying thing you ever do!
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