Chris Lang, President, Bynder USA
I’ve heard a lot of parents say the decision to have their first child was easy because they had no idea what they were getting into. In many ways, I think the same concept applies to your first time managing at young tech company. I often say the same things about my job at Bynder that a new parent might say about their child: It’s the hardest, most stressful, most emotional rollercoaster I have ever been on - and it’s all totally worth it.
That said, there are a couple things I've learned along the way that I think could help all new tech startup managers.
Get ready to take a good look at yourself
Most of us are in leadership roles because we excelled in our previous positions. (Others have scandalous pictures of the CEO.) Before my current role, I was a good salesman. I continually performed, and so I continually received praise. When you get praised enough, you gain a certain level of confidence in the job you’re doing. Moving into an executive leadership role was very humbling for me. I’m not the top salesman or sales manager anymore. Instead, I’m a young(ish) leader who is trying to learn and improve everyday.
The new roles that you take on will expose any weaknesses you have. You’ll work across different parts of the organization and take on tasks that you have zero familiarity with. The key is to recognize when you need some help and to have the humility to seek it out. You will analyze and re-analyze yourself all the time. That’s a good thing. Be honest with yourself on the areas you made mistakes and learn from them.
A positive from all of this? You’ll become 100 percent re-invigorated to prove to yourself and the world that you’re the best person for this job. There is a reason you have excelled in the past. Stay confident while working through your “first time” experiences and you’ll come out the other side on top.
Make process decisions quickly
There is a major “cover your a**” mentality when making decisions. The thought process is that, if you include everyone and let everyone contribute, then you will come out with the perfect solution. Everyone will feel like they played a part and everyone will be happy.
In actuality, what usually happens is you end up in meetings. Then there are more meetings after the initial meeting to discuss the outcome of the previous meeting. Someone will undoubtedly feel like they aren’t being heard and someone else will feel like they should have the ability to make the decision on their own (usually the sales people). Before you know it, you’re months into a topic and the only thing the company can agree on is that Jojo should have been the winner of “The Bachelor” (she got robbed!).
When it comes time to make a decision on processes, gather a few people close to the process, get their thoughts, and make a call. Process can be changed and a less than optimal process is usually better than having nothing at all. There are no final decisions. Look at everything as a work in progress.
Everyone’s problem is the most important thing to them
As a manager, people will generally come to you with problems. You don’t get interrupted during a meeting so that someone can say, “Just letting you know that everything is working well.”
Here’s a look at a manager’s typical thought process: “So, the board wants to meet in five minutes to talk financials… Oh crap, I didn’t put the latest numbers in… Wait, why is that broken?... Who spilled coffee on the new chair!?... We need to close the (xyz) deal this month... Did we pay that bill? Get the finance guy! Wait, he’s on vacation... Oh no! My flight leaves in two hours!... Who is this calling me now?”
It’s always at this moment that a co-worker will come up to you and give you the, “I know you’re busy so I’ll stand here until you acknowledge me” look. Once you do, they’ll say something along the lines of, “Hey Chris, can we talk about getting fine tip pens instead of medium?”
Just remember, despite the fact that you could care less about pens in general (and if you had one you might stab that person with it), you need to answer the question or direct the person to the right contact. For them, the pen thing is important and it will make their day better. If you rip on them for asking you the question during a stressful time (which they don’t even know), then they won’t feel safe coming to you later for something else that could in fact be really important.
Even the best are still sorting it out
I was talking to a pretty well known leader of another startup about a year and half ago. This guy has worked with several tech startups and has made some of them very successful. He’s kind of an ace in the hole for investors looking to take a company public.
“Man, I want to be like that guy,” I thought to myself after seeing him speak at an event I attended. He was polished. He had answers. He used acronyms that I hadn’t heard and he had that “I’m cool because I don’t care” vibe about him.
After his speech I approached him and asked if I could pick his brain for a while. He asked me why. I told him that, on a daily basis, I feel like I am making major decisions that I am slightly to seriously unsure about.
“I’d like to hear what you’ve done in similar situations,” I told him. His response caught me off guard.
“Man, we’re all making educated guesses at best,” he said. “Anyone who comes out here and says they have the blueprint for taking a startup to IPO or sale is full of bull(stuff). Things happen, you make decisions, you adjust. That’s how this goes. We’re all in the same boat.”
Maybe he meant that. Maybe he was just saying what he thought would get me away from him so he could get lunch. Regardless, it gave me confidence to keep going. Since then, we’ve gone from four to 30-something employees in this office. I have a super talented group of co-workers that I genuinely care about and sales are great.
Sure, there are a lot more lessons to be learned as a new tech startup manager. But I think if you trust the basics of what got you to where you are, you’ll look back at a successful career.