Being a founder requires inhuman amounts of determination, resourcefulness and resilience among many other skills. Although many people dream of starting their own business, not everyone is in a position or has the courage to go down this arduous path. However, there are a few characteristics and skills that can be adopted to help any intrapreneurs in the corporate world willing to go forward and drive change within their organization. Here are seven tips to consider:
Solve the obvious problems.
We solve problems that are usually obvious to us. Most founders come up with ideas by experiencing inefficiencies in their own personal or professional life. There might be several opportunities that come along that require fixing or improving at work.
Don't accept inefficiencies or learn to work around them. Challenge them! Especially when starting a new job, things that could be improved seem more obvious, but we quickly tend to get used to them as "the way it is." Paying attention to tasks you are doing daily that seem repetitive or reduces productivity is an opportunity to improve it. For example, if you are interacting with a new product, you might run into user experience problems worth writing down and reporting back to your product team (regardless of your role). You can also ask peers what are the biggest constraints to get their job done and focus on solving high-value obstacles.
Whatever it is, improving productivity or the user experience of a product will drive value for your organization and help differentiate yourself from others who might simply accept the status quo.
Be a visionary.
Founders set the vision and get people around them excited about the future. Having a clear vision is key to driving change. The way you get there will vary, but the vision should stay the same. The vision can be about yourself, your team or function.
Communicate that vision with people around you, and surround yourself with people that can help you achieve it. Having a clear vision for yourself and the business will also help bring clarity to others as you are exploring new opportunities within or outside of the organization.
When I interview new candidates, I always ask, "Where do they see yourself in three to five years from now?" I am building a team of people who are ambitious and looking for learning opportunities to get where they want to go. It doesn't mean they will reach it here, but having clarity will help us ensure that we provide them with the right opportunities and help them make the best decision to advance their career.
Know that change is inevitable.
Founders accept that change is a constant. We listen, explore and look for growth opportunities. This means having to constantly adapt and pivot as needed and bring people along. Most times, within a very short time frame.
Talk about inevitable or foreseeable change internally to help prepare and promote a culture willing to adapt. Having a mindset ready for change helps you make faster decisions and respond faster to market opportunities and the needs of the business.
Be your own teacher.
We are constantly growing. Everything is new, even for veteran founders. Thus, we have to quickly gather answers and become experts in everything. Within a few years, I had to learn to build a product and how to build usable data. I quickly became a patent expert, I learned how to raise capital, I also learned cap tables, financial models, sales and marketing technologies and processes, how to build and lead teams, how to run board meetings, and the list goes on.
I am constantly reaching out to my network as the challenges evolve with the stages of our business. You can't be the expert at everything, but knowing enough was critical to help me identify the right kind of support or candidates to bring a deeper level of expertise. Every week, I connect with a group of founders from around the world that are building new categories. I learn so much from their experience!
Be hungry to learn. There is so much information out there and people who are willing to share. If you don't know something, read up on it, watch webinars, reach out to your extended network to find people that have experience. Continuously share newfound resources and learnings with your team to make them stronger.
Build and expand your network.
A founder's network is everything. We build teams, surround ourselves with advisors and board members, we need experts, we raise capital, we find customers and build advocates for our business. Networking is a powerful way to learn new things and advance yourself. It opens new career and partnership opportunities. Most people are willing to spare 30 minutes to provide advice or share their experience.
I encourage you to tuck your phone away when traveling (when we travel again). I have met some of my most valuable advisors on airplanes and hotel lobbies. I encourage you to attend group chats and reach out through LinkedIn to executives from other areas of your business. Come prepared with good questions and take notes. Even if nothing comes out of it, you might take away an important nugget that will come handy in the future.
There is no way to build a company alone. Recruiting great talent is a huge part of success. The hardest thing for founders is to let go of certain areas of the business, but as you grow, it is a necessity to scale yourself and the business.
As a founder, you need to put your ego aside and make yourself replaceable for the company to thrive beyond you. Hiring A players for all critical areas of the business is key to derisking the business and ensuring minimal disruption in the event that something would happen. I set goals for them to achieve and let them shine.
As you look at your direct reports, it is important to understand potential constraints and what is getting in their way of success. Be their No. 1 cheerleader, and make your primary role about removing all of the barriers.
Be fiscally and socially responsible.
Our No. 1 job is to create value to our shareholders, which also includes employees. When working for a larger organization, it might not be as obvious to you how you can directly make an impact on the top line and overall value. However, if you think this way and identify opportunities that your team can contribute to improving value, you will in fact make a difference.
You can also make a difference by being a thoughtful spender. When responsible for a budget, look at maximizing value or measuring ROI for every dollar spent on products or services. Educating yourself on pricing and improving negotiating skills can go a long way!
Also, look to create or join diverse teams. Diversity enables differences of experience and thoughts. My leadership team is composed of highly different executives that bring their unique set of skills and opinions. I love the healthy friction created from seeing things from a different lens. It allows us to challenge ourselves and make better decisions, which often lead to greater outcomes. I also encourage you to seek diversity with your suppliers and build strong partnerships, as they are the greatest source of innovation and advancement.
Love what you do.
We are passionate! This is our curse or lifeboat. We really believe in what we are building, even if others might not see it yet. Even through hardships, we love what we do. When you are passionate, anything is possible and it spreads. Be proud of what you do or make a change. Life is too short to not enjoy coming to work every day.
Intrapreneurs are as critical as entrepreneurs to drive innovation and change for organizations. We bring new ideas and innovation, but they don't have a purpose without having strong champions among our customers to help us improve our offerings and grow our business. It is all about delivering value, building a great team and living a fulfilled life.