True Believers and Hired Guns

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Entrepreneurs / Sales

The Professionals

There is a conflict in many startups that no one seems to write about–the clash that can occur between the founder and the professionals they bring in to help build their companies.  It was highlighted for me by a conversation with a friend this week who had just joined a young company in the Bay Area as as a CFO.  He remarked that with just a few tweaks in the business model, he thought the team could get to an exit in 18-24 months.   If it didn’t work out in that time frame, he would be off to find the next opportunity.  It sounded pretty mercenary, but it was an honest reflection of his world.

It’s a real culture clash-the founder who believes in his vision heart and soul, versus CFOs, Salesmen, and Operations pros who are there for adventure and profit.  The ultimate goal is shared–building a successful company.  The motivations, though, can be very different.

For the founder, the company is a reflection of them.  Successes or failures are very personal, and they have a deep conviction that they will succeed no mater what the odds.  For the teams they hire, it’s professional, not personal.  Many of those professionals love to build companies as much as founders, but at the end of the day, there’s always another opportunity waiting.   They see every flaw in a company along with the big dream. By definition, they are not “all in” like a founder, even if they get seduced by the dream once they join.

The attitude of the professional members of the team can be downright offensive to founders and their close associates.  Their views tend to be more analytical and less optimistic than the founding team.  I should know, as I’ve offended my fair share of founders with candid comments (and maybe a little arrogance).

So what’s a founder to do as they build out their team?

  • Accept that you will need to hire professionals as your company grows, and know that they see the world differently.
  • Be ready for the fact that they will tell you things that you don’t want to hear and point out uncomfortable realities.  Listen.  They might even be right.
  • Hire only the best–those with proven success.  Forget friends and family hires.  You are betting your company on their talent.
  • Take heart.  The good ones, over time, will start to become true believers.  They will never match your commitment, but they’ll give you long hours, high performance, and loyalty.

Oh, and the picture above–that’s Lee Marvin in “The Professionals”, 1966.

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