At our 1st annual Strategic Growth Summit, we had the privilege of hearing from three CEOs (John Becker, Former CEO of Sourcefire; Flint Lane, CEO of Billtrust; Bill Wagner, President & CEO of LogMeIn) that have grown companies to break the revenue barrier of $50M. While their growth journeys were unique, there was consensus around a particular sentiment: “The CEO I am today will not be successful tomorrow.” They each used different analogies to arrive at the conclusion (e.g. kids growing up, chapters in a book), but the message was the same.
My favorite advice from the panel was:
1. Surround yourself with the right people. Entrepreneurs amaze me – they seem to never run out of motivation, energy, enthusiasm, ideas, stories, lessons learned, prospects, money (oh wait, they do run out of that). On day 1, they do just about everything themselves: they sell, they innovate, they solve problems. The issue with that model is it doesn’t scale; CEOs need help. And step one is admitting the problem. They need help from their peers, from management and even from their boards. More often than not, they have significant influence over who is sitting around the table, and the key is to find people who have done it before. If you need an astronaut to lead a mission to the moon, are you going to call Buzz Aldrin or a sophomore Astrophysics major at Princeton? The same applies when filling out your board or management team. If you surround yourself with early-stage investors and first-time executives, you’re less likely to evolve into the company that fulfills your long-term vision.
2. Know your role and let go of everything else. Once you’ve found the people that have done it before, let them do their thing! There are always going to be challenges, but if the CEO is the one addressing them daily, that’s probably all they are going to have time for. You brought in Buzz Aldrin and you still want to drive the spaceship? Let Buzz fly it! I’m sure you’ll have plenty of other things on your plate. Speaking of which…
3. When issues are identified, don’t dismiss them. The panel agreed that challenges are often seen well before they set you back. The only way challenges become opportunities is if they are addressed early and with the right amount of attention. When your sales reps come to you and say “we need another product,” then you might need another product. If your customers are coming to you and saying “you need another product,” then your customers are likely churning a little faster than you would prefer. The right time to address departmental issues are when they are first brought up, not when they turn into organizational problems.
So while your business may be crushing it today, look down the road to that ultimate target number (btw, $50M is a good goal post), and ask yourself “what changes are needed to get there?”