How to scale yourself, from founder to leader
All founders need some universal skills to succeed. They need the ability to take bold risks in pursuit of a vision that isn’t self-evident to others. They need the ability to learn (since they’re trying to do something brand-new). And to play a long-term role at their start-up turned scale-up, they need the ability to live with and resolve the inevitable paradoxes of being a founder. When I asked Dropbox founder Drew Houston to look back on his experience, he told me, “I think a lot of entrepreneurs start with a lot of insecurity about what they don’t know. What you want is not to be paralyzed by it, but to harness it—to use that nervous energy to learn and make yourself better. You’ve got to keep your personal learning curve ahead of the company’s growth curve.”
Maintaining a certain humility and a sense of perspective can help you navigate the changes in your role as you blitzscale your company. If you truly want to blitzscale, then speed has to take priority over everything—including your own ego.
There are only three ways to scale yourself: delegation, amplification, and just plain making yourself better.
Can you find, hire, and manage good people, then transfer work over to them so you can tackle the challenges you’re uniquely suited to tackle?
Many founders are so talented that they have a hard time letting go of tasks once they start performing them. They often think things like, “Will someone else be able to do this as well as I can?” The answer is almost certainly, “No, especially not at first, but they’ll probably figure it out over time, just like you did.”
Start-ups get off the ground thanks to the individual talent and hard work of founders like Mark Zuckerberg and Brian Chesky, but they blitzscale into giant companies like Facebook and Airbnb because these founders learn how to delegate.
One of the most important aspects of delegation, and often the most challenging for a founder, is to hire an executive and hand off functional leadership.
For example, a lot of great founders are product people. Initial product/market fit and success are achieved because of their product instincts. But as the company grows, these founders will almost always need to hire an executive to take over leadership of the product organization—it’s too important to be a founder’s part-time job.
A key technique I use to overcome this challenge is to picture the hire as a specific living, breathing person rather than as a role written down on a piece of paper. When you try to picture an abstract “head of product,” for example, you might have a hard time visualizing this faceless entity doing a better job than you are. But when you picture a particular individual (say, Joe Zadeh of Airbnb), all of a sudden your mind shifts to thinking, “Wow, just imagine how awesome it would be to have someone like this running our product team.” It might be difficult to hire this paragon—executives who are that good are hard to pry loose from their current companies—but it doesn’t hurt to try, and at the least, you’ll have a great reference to which you can compare the people you actually consider hiring.
Rather than delegate work you’re doing to others, can you hire people who amplify the work you do? The goal here isn’t to free you up from your work so that you can do other things; it’s to make the things you do much more impactful. This is actually one of the areas I’ve tried to develop and refine in my own life.
Like many founders and executives, I have an amazing executive assistant, Saida Sapieva, to help me with scheduling and logistics. But I’ve discovered that you can take the concept of amplification much further.
For example, I was one of the first start-up leaders in Silicon Valley to borrow the “chief of staff” concept from the realm of politics and established corporations. Unlike a traditional assistant or even a technical assistant, your chief of staff should amplify your business impact: he or she should be a businessperson who can not only make