Do what you do best
Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. June's topic is role of founder.
Sure the idea was mine, but to bring my idea to life, I needed help. This may or may not hold true for everyone starting a company. And more power to you, if you can design, build and launch your product on your own. Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint.com, once told me that he basically locked himself in a room for months and coded the first rev of Mint all by himself. God bless him. But if you aren't a programmer (like me), chances are you won't get far with your idea until you bring on some help. Be it a business partner, outsourcing or hiring. I'm a firm believer that if you want to be taken seriously with a product, especially an online financial product where people will be entrusting you with their money, branding and design are critical and the site needs to work flawlessly. So right off the bat, my business partner and co-founder Jon Gaskell and I knew we needed to find a killer Web design group (Happy Cog) and some solid backend developers with deep financial experience to get SmartyPig off the ground. Over the next 14 months, we assembled the right team, the needed funding, resources and financial partners to build what many said could not be built.
Fast forward a few years, we now have a team of 30, we renamed the company to Social Money, and introduced a new product we call Goal Saver, a white-label goal saving application that any bank or institution can integrate into their own Web site. Our first customer is one of the largest banks in India and we're fortunate to have a number of banks, retailers, and other companies that are knocking on our door. Exciting momentum.
I believe our recent growth, direction and focus of our company can be attributed to our new leadership within the company. About 6 months ago, we brought on Scott McCormick to be the CEO of the company. Scott brings 18-plus years of financial industry experience. Sometimes change is good.
So the question that was asked of me was, what's it like handing over the leadership reigns to an outside CEO. And it's a great question. I'll answer it best as I can, but I would assume it is very much circumstantial. For us, it was a needed and natural progression of our company. And simply put, it is a balance of knowing what you do well and where you need help to grow the business.
I personally didn't start a company to have the title of "CEO" on my business card. If that is why you are starting a company, good luck with that. I started a company because I loved an idea that I simply couldn't get out of my head. And I believed I could bring that idea to life because I had a complete obsession for the idea and a passion for building a new brand and product from the ground up.
As an entrepreneur in the early stages of your startup, you wear a thousand hats. Like it or not, you make hundreds of decisions each and every day. Decisions that you most likely have absolutely no experience in making. But you will make them because hey, who else will right? And as you grow, you will fill your team with people that will fill needed gaps and roles within your organization with whom you will entrust to make future decisions on behalf of the company you started. Am I the best person to be handling HR, accounting or customer support? Early on, you bet. In growth stage? Not so much.
It became clear to us that as our company pivoted to offering a business-to-business product to financial institutions we wanted to leverage the expertise and leadership of someone that spent years in the financial industry. And that's exactly what we did.
In my opinion, life as a founder post bringing in an outside CEO doesn't really change things that much. Chances are before you made that decision you were doing the things you were really good at well, and doing the things you weren't really good at, not so good. Or better yet, to the best of your ability. This isn't about doing your best. You get one shot. In the end, it's about building a successful company and #winning. Stay focused at what you are good at, leave your ego at the door, hire smart people and keep building.
Credits: Photo courtesy of Michael Ferrari
About the author: Michael Ferrari is the co-founder of Social Money (SmartyPig) and is responsible for both product design and innovation. Prior to Social Money, Ferrari served as a director at The Integer Group, an Omnicom Group affiliate, which is one of the largest promotions agencies in the country. Ferrari earned a B.A. in psychology and business administration from DePauw University.
Follow Ferrari on Twitter, @mferrari.
Founder Friday is brought to you by the Heartland Technology Alliance
Thanks to our Founder Friday series sponsor, Heartland Technology Alliance, a nonprofit working as an advocate for innovation and competition in technology and communications across much of the Silicon Prairie and throughout the Upper Midwest.