BEIRUT: There comes a time in every startup founder’s journey when they are forced to take on numerous roles to fill the gaps brought upon by their entrepreneurial path, thus they need to be a jack of all trades to become a master of one.
“Startup founders are very emotional about their business, very passionate and driven, all of them work up a lot of zest when working on their ideas, which is understandable, the company is kind of their baby,” Sami Abou Saab, CEO of Speed@BDD – a locally based accelerator – told Annahar, “thus they have no problem with the notion of rolling up their sleeves and switching from one role to the next if need be.”
According to Abou Saab, the current stage of a startup plays a big role on their founders since it dictates what they should focus on and what hats to put on; the idea stage is different from being at the product or growth stage.
When looking to a worldwide example, the two co-founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, sat aside early on and decided to appoint someone else as CEO and chairman, because they didn’t have the right skills to lead their team at the time; they wanted to build them while not stalling the company’s progress.
“Early on both co-founders put on the product hat and left the management and execution hat to someone else, and not until recently did they take back their executive roles,” Abou Saab said.
In terms of the local scene, however, most of the founders are more technology oriented, with a small number having managerial skills. As someone who’s gained hard business experience, Sami Abou Saab has a number of top recommendations for people thrust themselves in this demanding profession and the rigors of entrepreneurship.
The first thing startup founders need to pinpoint is their strengths and weaknesses; self-awareness requires a lot of maturity and discipline as well as the ability to listen to feedback and incorporate it through the company’s different stages. “Self-awareness is crucial for founders to either hire the right talent or build the right skills during the job; which leads to differentiating what they can and can’t do,” Abou Saab said.
He also notes that self-awareness shouldn’t affect egos, personal attachment, or emotions even though it’s easy to get swept away by feelings for their nascent business.
A point one must focus on is having business acumen to take the right decision at the right time, appointing the right people for the right job or task and steer the startup into a direction that’s profitable for all.
Thus, enlisting people to work on aspects of the startup that the founder isn’t good at is key, and doesn’t necessarily mean that they are giving away ownership in the company but rather grants them decision-making powers.
“Mark Zuckerberg did the same thing at Facebook, he remained as CEO but brought on board some very strong advisers and business professionals to help him progress further,” Abou Saab highlighted.
Surround yourself with smart people:
An important factor any startup founder or entrepreneur must do is surround themselves with smart people, “people even smarter than you, because they always make you and your business look good, while giving you valuable feedback and more often than not, they will offer you a helping hand in the process, if need be,” he added.
The founder at first could be a product person, who’s a visionary by constantly looking into the future, keeping up with trends and trying to build something that’s disruptive or going to change certain industries.
“This hat helps founders attribute what’s missing in the market and try to apply a solution toward it, either by creating something disruptive or by duplicating something that already exists abroad and executes it in a new market,” Abou Saab told Annahar.
Every startup needs a level-headed leader spearheading the team while being the one that teams identify with and believe in, which drives them to follow his decisive shot-calling at the end of all arguments, regardless if the decision was wrong.
“Even if the decision was wrong, the team must be able to accept their misstep, while noting that the leader had the best intentions of the company in mind when taking it, which is proceeded by a team effort to correct the mistake under that person’s leadership,” he added.
Abou Saab noted, through previous experience at Speed@BDD, a startup that was founded by four tech-savvy individuals, “During our acceleration program we saw that they are in need for someone with business skills and couldn’t hire someone from the outside, thus they had to do it in-house,” he said.
One of the four had to step up to take on the leadership role to lead the team from a business aspect while the rest focus on their current tasks. “After some time, one person stepped up to let go of the technical tasks he was working on and becoming a leader to support the team,” Abou Saab added.
For a select few, delegating comes easily; however, for others who are perfectionists, letting go of even the most trivial of tasks is almost impossible. It’s widely believed one of the keys to growth is the founder’s ability to effectively delegate.
“Delegate responsibility and authority, not just the task; founders have to trust those to whom they delegate, pick the best person for the job while choosing what tasks the founders are willing to delegate to other people,” Abou Saab told Annahar.
Communication is key to everything, be it on a personal or corporate level, thus appointing a spokesperson for the startup to maintain a relationship and follow up with the ecosystem and its environment. “The spokesperson is the one facing the media and everyone on the outside and cementing the startup’s presence at events,” he said.
However, the accelerator CEO recommends on having only one spokesperson in order for the message given out by the company to be consistent, avoiding a re occurrence of different messages if a mistake were to happen. “Multiple messages may give birth to a lack of consistency which may reflect on the startup’s credibility in front of many,” Abou Saab said.
That being said, communication is a team effort at the end of the day.
The Business Hat:
The business hat can go in so many directions, from managing the start-up and staff to delivering pitch decks at events to trigger the fancy of an investor in hopes of making it big; thus this hat is mainly spread out into three main skill sets:
- Management skills: This is done by showing all soft skills in terms of communication inside and outside the team as well as dealing with promotions, equity, salaries or anything of the like.
“The startup’s success is bad on how efficiently it’s managed, the smoothness of communication flow happening between the staff and ability to take firm shot-calling decisions,” Abou Saab noted.
- Negotiation skills: This is a very important skill that every entrepreneur and founder must master since clear negotiation and communication are detrimental at the early stages of the company to transfer what the company exactly does.
- Analytical skills: Founders must have a thorough analytical mind, especially when talking to an investor or finance person by having the ability to keep up with difficult conversations and dive deeper into them.
“You cannot expect a founder to have all of these attributes right away; they would have some and learn the rest as they go on through the entrepreneurial journey while calling on their team’s skills to fill the missing gaps within the startup,” Abou Saab highlighted.
These recommendations apply to any entrepreneur, not just founders, and even managers; thus for whomever decides to start a business, then they need to ditch the hat rack since they’ll be wearing them all sooner or later.
“It’s the thrill and the consequence of entrepreneurship, the ability to be everything at once,” Abou Saab told Annahar.
Sami Abou Saab is currently the CEO of Speed@BDD, Lebanon’s first ecosystem-backed start-up accelerator. He has been occupying this role since July 2015 and during his tenure, he officially launched Speed@BDD and recruited four batches of startups to accelerate. As part of his role, he has been mentoring startups in Lebanon and the MENA region and helped them grow in their early stages. Sami has more than 11 years of experience in technology, both in startups and big tech firms. Sami holds a Bachelor of Engineering from the American University of Beirut and an MBA from Berkeley-Haas and London Business School.
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