Monday, July 29, 2013

Delegation in Startups

As a woman founder of a technical startup, I had the privilege of attending my first mentoring session with Femgineer lead by Poornima Vijayashanker.  This particular session addressed the topic of delegation for entrepreneurs with early stage startups.  The discussion could not have come at a more timely, as this week it became increasingly clear that I needed to manage my team more effectively.  

Since my startup is still developing our first sellable product by bootstrapping, the “employees” on my operational team consists of three four part-time professionals that can donate only a few hours of their expertise a week. Because at this time I can’t pay them I have not felt comfortable pushing nor aggressively enforcing deadlines.  This has sometimes set us back or otherwise burned me out as I tried to pick up the slack.  

The mentoring session started out with the fundamental question to ask every perspective person that your work with: “Are you interested in my business idea?”.  In my case, most would find the B2B software space compelling as there is a lot of potential.  The next excellent points included:

  1. Always be clear on what they will be working on whether it is a project or a specific task.
  2. Start by asking if they can commit to 5-10 hour a week on a non-paid basis? Because if they can’t they may not be interested enough. And, they may not have resources to give 20 hour resources on a paid basis.
  3. Make the first task very basic and see if the person takes charge. Note founders  don’t have time to check in with everyone everyday.  
  4. Layout the expectation that you will only be checking in only once a week- unless of course if they are stuck them more frequent dialogue is fine.
  5. Always attach deadlines to tasks. Ask the person to first give you an estimate.  Let them set the deadline.  Assess whether you think they are giving you an aggressive deadline or a doable one.  Ask what part of the task will be most at risk of not meeting the deadline. Then hold the person accountable for meeting the deadline.
Overall, the discussion was helpful.  In many ways I have already known these management skills, however, hearing them from another entrepreneur brought me back to basics.  

As for the shyness of being a good leader because I’m not able to pay for help at this time, I need to remember that we are really building a good thing that takes time and dedication.  All the pieces of my business plan make a very compelling argument for success.   And those that are there at the beginning and working because they believe in the vision and business idea need me to be a strong leader that demands delivery.  Those that stick it out also know that they will reap the reward as we grow together.

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