Comfort zones


I have be fortunate enough to be the founder of a number of  startups, playing the role of CEO and ultimate decision maker within a fledgeling company. It's a position which requires a number of skills, continuous context switching and the ability to quickly and efficiently deal with whatever the day throws at you.

The question of CEO time management has come up a number of times, at one board meeting in particular. Was I spending too much time and resources on the product development and not enough managing the other functions of the business? It got heated to say the least. The criticism was that i  spent too much my time in product development because that was my comfort zone. Perhaps they where right! (i don't think i was quite so accepting at the time).  

The spectrum of skills required as a startup founder is huge. I find myself rapidly switching between investor relations, product management, finance, marketing, networking. This is part of the joy of the role, being able to add value in many different areas is hugely satisfying. 

Anyone playing a multi- faceted role has a to-do list peppered with a variety of tasks to do, but i have, in the past, suffered from what I will call a 'comfort zone bias'. As the name suggests, this draws me towards the tasks which i find the most pleasurable or easiest.  If you enjoy coding and creating software (as i do), you may well retreat into the software development challenges, dealing with engineers and making a few commits. If you're a former management consultant, you will probably want to avoid product development decisions and stick to spreadsheets and models. This is counterproductive and will ultimately be detrimental to your organisation  I have learnt to try and get my head out of trying to solve the problem with my skillset, and instead try and guide the team to solve the problem in the right way. 

This is undoubtably a contributing factor to the unceremonious management reshuffle that often happens in startups as they move from the discovery to growth phase. The core team members and skills that worked so well when the company was finding it's model aren't necessarily the right people to be managing a growing headcount and the new class of challenge that a growing organisation brings. 

A new year's resolution from me then. Take a holistic view of my startup's challenges and then work out of I am the best person for the job, rather than the other way round.