Leadership and Management for Startups
It's one thing to have a great business idea and it's another thing to be able to start, grow, and lead your business to success.
To be honest, the mark of any great business goes beyond the product or service. It's about management. It's about how well you can optimize your processes, how well you can lead your team, and how well you can build a culture that ensures that everybody's excellent - Uwem Uwemakpan
A lot of founders may find this tricky as growing your business and harnessing available resources may be challenging.
You have to ensure that everyone on your team is doing what they are supposed to do, going above and beyond and hitting all organizational goals.
That's why we put together this conversation on our Twitter Spaces to tackle real issues that founders face regarding the leadership and management of their startups.
Meet The Speakers
About Oye Akideinde of Merrygo Kids
For quite a long time Oye Akideinde has been involved in a few startups. From 360nobs where he was a co-founder to Continued Entertainment, a distribution company that caters to over 5000 artists, to MerryGo Kids, an entertainment platform for kids.
Oye has literally worked for half of his lifetime.
He has also started up business for lots of companies, and examples include; Techno boom play, MTN music service, and Spinlet among others.
It's exciting to have Oye on this conversation about Leadership and Management for Startups.
About Stephen Amaza of Pay Stack.
Stephen started his career with Oye Akideinde as his boss at Spinlet, a music streaming platform, one of the first in the country.
After which he founded a web development agency, Codaye Technologies.
His more recent and most relevant experience to this conversation is his work at Paystack, a payment processing company that recently got acquired by Stripe.
Stephen is happy to join this conversation and share what he knows with us.
About Audra Stevenson of Platform Calgary
Audra is an Advisor at Platform Calgary, an organization that brings together the resources of Calgary's tech ecosystem to help startups launch and grow.
She is a social entrepreneur who has a diverse background in nonprofits, technological startups, and arts.
Audra will be sharing the knowledge, expertise, and experience that she has gained from leading several startups to success.
Highlights of The Conversation
Transitioning from a corporate career to being a founder
If you have been a leader in your corporate career, there wouldn't be so much difference in your responsibilities as a founder.
Apart from not getting monthly alerts, it's kind of the same because I've been involved with leading people for companies and I've always had that entrepreneurial spirit. - Oye Akideinde
The major difference is that you are now responsible for building the company's vision, culture, and values.
You are now responsible for a lot of things including human resources.
When you start at first, you may have to wear about 6 to 7 hats and as you get bigger, you start bringing people in to take those hats off you.
In your corporate career, you may have had targets for revenue generation, but as a founder, you need to do the heavy lifting of looking for capital or funding.
It takes someone with an entrepreneurial spirit to dabble in both worlds and do really well.
How you manage your team in a corporate career is different from how you manage people when you are running your own business.
The realities of a corporate career and being a founder might be similar but they are quite different. - Uwem Uwemakpan
Something a lot of founders struggle with is picking a management style.
One core thing you must remember is that you are dealing with people, and as much as possible, you must adjust your management style to suit the kind of persons that are on your team.
People respond differently to different things. At the end of the day, if you know your team well, have regular one-on-one meetings with them, check in on their work, and get feedback, you'll be able to manage your team well enough. - Stephen Amaza
Communication is key to pulling this off. With it, you'll be able to learn what works for certain people and what doesn't work, so you can implement it.
Management styles should be very contextual because, at different stages of your business, you have to implement different styles as your staff matures.
For example, it may be necessary to micromanage an intern, but you don't need to do that to a more experienced staff who is more independent and can make creative decisions on their own.
Building Your Startup Culture
Another major problem founders struggle with is building their startup culture.
A lot of founders jump right into building culture the moment they start their business, however, that is not the way to go about it.
It's always best to build a culture as you scale up - Oye Akideinde
However, some basic things to start with include openness, you should encourage your employees to share their opinions freely. There is nothing like a 'stupid idea'.
You should also encourage work-life balance in a way that people know when to get away from work. A work-smart, play-hard kind of culture.
From there, you'll be able to build the right people.
If you haven't formed the values that define your company. It is hard to even recruit for it. - Oye Akideinde
So let's say you want to build a culture around CSR for education or even cleanliness, a lot of people might not believe in this kind of value for a company.
You need to decide what values you want to keep as you grow and then ensure that the people you are bringing in are people who care about these values.
As you build your business and manage people, things get really overwhelming and stressful.
How you manage stress will reflect in how you manage your business and how you manage people, your deliverables, and the resources available to you.
Apart from work, you need to be able to do other things.
We already spend so much of our lives at work, you need to be able to do other things because life doesn't revolve around that single thing you are doing - Stephen Amaza
As a leader, even if you are a workaholic, you need to learn to take time away from work, because you need to consider those who are looking up to you.
If you don't do that, they will feel guilty about taking time off work and may even start to resent you.
They start to feel like the workplace is not conducive for them.
To keep your team happy, productive, and to retain people, work-life balance is non-negotiable.
Some things are the basic minimum like vacations. Some companies give 15 days vacation and some 30 days. Make sure that your team has vacation time.
Ensure that there is an open-door policy, that employees can see empathy among the leaders such that they are even comfortable enough to discuss personal issues.
There should be access to health benefits, either physical or mental.
It may not be easy to have a work-life balance from the early stage but it's important to actively work towards it.
Your team has to see that you are working towards making their lives easier either by automating processes or by staffing. It'll go a long way to making them trust you.
I've had to work in companies where our services were 24/7 because most of them were music services, and music never sleeps. We get emails at odd times, especially during Christmas which is the holiday period. What we try to do is create a balance. We set up schedules and make sure that on the real holiday, no one works on those days. - Oye Akideinde
Hiring the best talents
One of the first stages of people management is hiring.
So, how do you hire the best talents for your business?
When you approach hiring, you should consider both technical expertise and culture fit. It could be tempting to leave out culture fit, however, it's very important.
What kind of business are you trying to build?
For us, our culture generally revolves around our values. Chief among them for a customer-facing role is empathy, so we'll try to see how empathetic you are. Do you approach situations with a lot of kindness? Even when somebody is being really annoying or really horrible, how do you approach that situation? - Stephen Amaza
Another thing you should look out for is the persona.
You should know what kind of person will succeed in the role.
So if you have a role that requires someone with good writing skills, the application process should be structured in a way that allows the person to write.
There was a time we were hiring for customer success and from previous hires, we noticed that people who have experienced teaching make really good customer success experts because a lot of the work has to do with patiently guiding people to do things properly or fixing it for them when something goes wrong - Stephen Amaza
You can also leverage your network for referrals.
A lot of times I trust my gut feelings when I'm hiring. I'm big on referrals as well. I lean on my network because I built a strong network over the years. - Oye Akideinde
It's important to ensure that your job descriptions are detailed and clear so that the person understands what's expected of them before applying.
One of the questions I ask sometimes during interviews is, do you know why your job is important to the company? If someone can articulate the answer very well, you know that the person understands what role to play, not only in the company but also along with the culture. - Oye Akideinde
Measuring KPIs and Appraisals
When it comes to measuring performance and giving appraisals, a lot of founders struggle.
In the same way, they struggle with measuring the company's performance metrics.
To tackle this, start with giving your employees targets that are measurable. You also need to know that measuring performance is beyond just KPIs. It could also be about how a person fits in well with other teams.
One thing with startups is that most of the founding team members have to wear so many hats. They have to do a lot of collaborative partnerships with other departments. So you have to find a way to measure that effectively - Oye Akideinde
KPIs should be set in a way that it's relevant to department work or people's roles.
I've seen people pull up KPIs that for me are a bit funny. So you hear you must advise 20 customers in a day. It's easy for me to say good morning, my name is Oye, have a nice day and I've advised that person. I think a more measurable KPI for a customer support person will be how many cases you close in how many days. - Oye Akideinde
Also, ensure that you are not setting KPIs just to fail or pass people. Ensure that it all adds up to scaling the company.
And if you don't have an HR personnel, you probably have to act in the place of an HR and check each person's score card, suggest things that the person can do better, and also ensure that your team keeps learning.
The more they learn, the more value they can add.
One way to help employees give their best is to co-create performance instead of just dictating what they should do.
You need to know what the person is looking to get out of their role and engineer it alongside the business goals so they can easily give their best.
I think on average I typically expect employees to stay with the startup maximum of two years because they're really there to get a kind of firehose of information, build a really fast skill set, and then they're probably going to move off somewhere else. To me, that's totally fine. But then, you really want to know, within those two years, how do I give this person the opportunity to really excel and move their career forward alongside the business goals? So yeah, I'm a big fan of co-creation overall. - Audra Stevenson
One of my favorite hiring questions is how does working for this organization help you achieve your medium to long-term goals? Because I believe that if you tap into the drive, the vision, and the selfishness of that hire or that resource, then they'll actually go to the war front for you. - Uwem Uwemakpan
A lot of founders hate firing people even though there's a saying "Hire slow, fire fast".
Not everyone has the luxury and it can be a difficult conversation to have.
The best approach is to have a policy that dictates how you fire someone. Maybe first and second probation before the final let go.
However, if the person does something that violates the company's policy on contract, then that's instant termination.
It's important to let people go through a process before firing them.
I believe that you can always get the best out of someone and if you let the person go through a process, then the person knows that, yes the company has also tried to keep him. - Oye Akideinde
It's a difficult thing to fire someone, but sometimes it helps especially when the person's career goal is no longer in line with the company or when the person no longer wants to develop themself.
There is no easy way to do it, you just have to let them know that their services are no longer needed.
Handling Non-team Players
There are times that on teams, we have people who are high-flyers but are not much of team players or people who tend to cause discord among the team.
The person may even be your best executionist who is bringing in the best numbers.
However, your company culture is what determines if this kind of person can stay.
My personal preference for the type of culture that I'm a part of is - I don't care how great of a genius you are if you're not a team player, you don't have a place - Audra Stevenson
A person who does so well at a task but brings discord to the team may cause bigger problems for the team.
You can get a lot more out of a team when there are just no genius jerks. - Audra Stevenson
However, you must know that being direct or outcome-driven does not make a person a non-team player.
Being a team player has more to do with having empathy.
It comes down to empathy. I'm pretty uninterested in having anybody in my organization that's not empathetic. And that's just like a ground zero from the bottom all the way to the top and the board level. - Audra Stevenson
Dealing with Competition
Dealing with competition is an unavoidable part of growing a startup.
It's quite easy to view competitors as a huge problem, however, even competitors can be leveraged for startup growth.
Competitors can provide you with the best information on how to serve your customers. When you study how customers are using your competitors' products, you get to see what they like and what they do not like.
I actually think competitors provide you with the best information on how to serve your customers better. I'm big on customer discovery throughout the whole life cycle of a company and one of the core pieces of my customer discovery process would be digging into how my customers or potential customers are using competitors and what they like from the get-go - Audra Stevenson
Analyzing your competition is like an opportunity for you to do better where they are failing.
So do not let competition get you scared, instead, approach it from the learning perspective and don't be distracted by what is going on with them.
I also subscribe to the belief of putting your head down and doing your work. As long as you have a really solid understanding of your customer, you have empathy for your customer, and you're really focused on delivering a great product and a great service. - Audra Stevenson
Using Tools for Assessing Performance
Tools are a great way of assessing performance, but the result you get from them largely depends on the process and practice you put in place around them.
As a startup, you'd most likely need to test different tools to see which one suits the kind of performances you want to measure.
The main thing is the process and the practice you have around those tools. Tools will give you the freedom to set it how you think is best, so a lot of times, you might need to experiment with different ways of assessing performance as you consistently get feedback from your team. At Paystack, we use a service called Small Improvement. It's an app we use for our performance reviews. We also use it for other things like recording one-on-one sessions. - Stephen Amaza
It's great to ensure that performance is assessed across all verticals in the organization.
For example, managers can assess employees, then the employees can assess themselves while nominating peers they have worked with to also assess them.
This way you get a complete view of the employees' performance.
Consistency in Operations
At the beginning phase of your startup growth, you shouldn't be too focused on building rigid processes or forcing consistency because that phase is experimental.
At the beginning of building my business, I would have less focus on process and consistency, because we're really in an experimental phase of, you know, figuring out what resonates with our customers. You're really just in very much like a testing and validation phase - Audra Stevenson
So everything you do should be built around customer satisfaction. Also, you don't want to snuff out the excitement from your team while trying to develop processes to ensure consistency.
So instead of handing down processes, collaborate with your team to know what works for everyone and celebrate the milestones that you achieve.
One of the things that help with consistency is celebrating small milestones. So get your first 100 app installs celebrated, get your first 1000 monthly active users celebrated. As you celebrate your small wins, your big wins will come quicker. - Oye Akideinde
I'm sure you agree with me that there was so much to learn from this conversation.
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