The strategic and tactical roles of a founder
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.
First things first, the role of a founder is to do things like this. Share their experience, learn from others' experiences, and give back to communities that have helped shape and grow their companies.
I believe founders have both strategic and tactical roles. Strategic roles are things like crafting the vision, creating and maintaining a desired culture, recruiting the best team, and generally keeping the ship moving in the right direction. These are likely consistent throughout the lifecycle of the company. Vision, culture, team, and direction evolve, but the importance of each never changes. Founders should be intimately involved in these roles all of the time. I think founders own the role of the pace car as well. Setting the tone with work ethic, initiative, and fulfilling the company's mission. If the founder doesn't live and breathe the company and the mission, how can he / she expect employees to share the same desire and passion to achieve company goals?
Tactical roles move and shift as the company grows. In my opinion, a founder's first tactical role is to find a complimentary co-founder. There are certainly different schools of thought on this topic, but many of the best companies in the world started with two or three people, not one. Starting a company requires an incredible amount of effort and dedication, sharing that experience and workload with someone that's equally committed is invaluable. MindMixer wouldn't be a fraction of what it is today without my co-founder Nathan.
As the company officially gets going, it's the founders' job to build the product, find the first customer, and prove the concept is worth pursuing. At some point, the founder may become the chief fundraiser, ensuring the company has the necessary bandwidth and resources to continue growing. Fundraise or not, eventually a founder must become the chief recruiter of talented team members. This role requires not settling and only identifying the best and brightest, and figuring out a way to get them on your team. In a market like Omaha, where start-ups are still synonymous with risky, this is one of the biggest challenges a founder faces. With a growing team the founder must shift roles again and becomes a chief manager and encourager. For me personally, this has been one of the hardest transitions. It requires trust, faith, communication, accountability, and a willingness to not be involved in every detail of every decision.
Depending on the desired outcome for the company, a founder likely becomes chief value builder and potentially chief negotiator. Identifying and doubling down on what works and shedding what doesn’t work. Finding that "thing" that makes your company special and unique and exploiting that in the market. This role may single handily determine if the company scales or the company crashes.
To end, I'm including a recent quote from Paul Dejore, founder at Ecquire, which sums up everything about founding and running a company. "You start to respect the Duck. Paddle like hell under the water and be smooth and calm on top where everyone can see you." I guess the real role of a founder is to be a duck.
Credits: Photo courtesy of Bowden
About the author: Nick Bowden is the CEO and co-founder of MindMixer. MindMixer believes in building connected and contributing communities by promoting community dialogue online, ultimately leading to community action offline. The company works with more than 200 communities across the world.
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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.