Every entrepreneur’s greatest fear is getting kicked out the company s/he founded.
We’ve all been told that it is really simple to void this worst-case-scenario: “Make yourself indispensable to the business,” they say, “and you have got it!” That sounds real good, and it is true, it is not easy to do. A founder cannot be all things to all people. Realistically many of functions a founder performs starting-up a company can be just as well performed—if not better—by someone with more expertise later on (e.g. hiring, sales, programming, etc). If the whole of the core competencies you bring to your company do not add up to something far greater than the sum of their parts, your days are probably numbered because someone can always be brought in to perform one of your functions.
So how does a founder become indispensable to a company?
It is easy to say that the founder embodies the vision and the passion of the company, that without him or her it would not exist. But it is another thing to make sure that everyone, at all levels in your company, feels this to be the case. The best way to create and maintain passion for the company is for the founder to build emotional attachments with their employees. The more your staff trust and know you as a person (to be distinguished from “the boss”), the easier it is for them to adopt your value system, align themselves with your vision, and make your goals their own.
The same goes for your investors. The more emotionally attached they are to you, the more likely they are to see your goals as their own, to see their money invested in you, as much as in your company. Then they’ll be less likely to oust you.
Here are some of the things that I have done at my company, Yugma, to build emotional bonds with my won staff:
• I speak to my staff daily to address the issues that impact their work, and personal lives. This is especially true for our staff in India via a regular call with our Managing Director and a daily update from the development team through our chief architect. Then I address their concerns with my personal attention as needed.
• I communicate the good and bad news immediately Good and not so good things need to be shared with everyone, and quickly. People feel trusted when you keep them in the loop, and this way, things get fixed sooner rather than later.
• Face time for every employee I spend one-on-one time with every team member in our home office in Minnesota. I also travel to India twice a year for similar quality time with each member of our team there to reinforce our vision and goals. This commitment has really helped us to build a team that is committed and dedicated and runs like a well–oiled machine.
• Personal time for investors One of our directors, Ron, expressed an interest in visiting India with his wife. I offered to co-ordinate their trip with one of my own and play tour-guide. We traveled together for a week. I had the opportunity to learn about him personally in a completely different environment. They visited with my family and friends and had a great trip. We came back better friends, with Ron excited about Yugma all over again.
In India, Ron conducted a private Q&A session with our employees Afterwards, he conveyed how clear it was that the staff understood what needed to be achieved, and some expressed to him that I was indispensable to the development process—amazing, since, I am in Minnesota. The team had essentially ‘paid me back.’ For his own part, Ron later took the lead in a subsequent round of financing.
Once you’ve built emotional attachments, the decision making processes of a staff member or investor will cease to be about the company alone. Recently, I’ve been working through some personal issues. Ron has stood by me with other directors making the process easier, and my position more secure. The decisions they make will—if unconsciously—serve their emotional attachments as well. The question of ‘should I work harder and longer to get this project done?’ or ‘should I invest again?’ and even, ‘should I bring in an outsider to run the company?’ ceases to be about what is best for the employee, or an IRR.
These decisions are also about their relationship with the founder, as a person, in whom they are equally invested. No founder’s job is never secure but Ron’s and my staff’s loyalty makes it more likely that I won’t be replaced at Yugma. This is how “building emotional attachment” can go a long way to making you indispensable to your company.