I tried my hand at starting a company in college. In the end, we decided to shut down operations and considered it a lesson learned. For a while, I led our small team. It forced me to confront myself as a leader, my good parts and my ugly parts. In the end, I tried my best and I learned a lot about myself as a leader.
After college, I joined a fellowship program called Venture for America placing me at a bootstrapped construction startup in Detroit. I dove deep into the city I’ve now come to love. We were working on removing blight in the city and bringing a fresh face to the unchanging construction industry. I loved it, I hated it at times, I learned, prospered, and faced challenges. On the odd occasion, I found myself running from stray dogs. I put out a lot of fires, and learned how to build a process from the ground up with limited resources.
I’m now the first employee at another bootstrapped startup. After working my way into a job, I hit the ground running and because very involved very quickly. I’ve also fallen in love with my company a little bit, and describe my job as my number one commitment in life. Simply put, I’m super happy.
I’ve learned a lot from these experiences, having been on both sides of the table. In terms of advice, a few things stand out to me. These seem simple and obvious, but I’ve found that they’re easy to forget in the daily grind.
This seems obvious, but I’ve met countless founders who just don’t listen. They don’t listen to their customers, they don’t listen to their team, they don’t listen to the market. Even if it’s begging them to listen. When one of your employees brings up a concern of theirs? Listen to them. They’re giving you valuable insight into the pulse of your company and its inner workings. When you get difficult to take feedback from a user? Pay attention to it and digest it.
When I left my last job, the leadership at the company wasn’t listening. Shortly after I left, another one of my coworkers left. When your employees are telling you what’s wrong, take ten minutes out of your day to hear them. It’s that simple.
Read articles, books, case studies. Read as much as you can and diversify your reading. It’s a great way to continue learning and keep up to speed on your industry. When I did construction in Detroit, I set news alerts related to the city and construction. This helped me stay up to date on what was happening in my industry and my ecosystem.
While consuming startup books and Medium articles will help you learn, make sure you throw in some fiction reading too. You’ll foster your imagination again and might find it’s a great way to destress.
You’re a person first
At the end of the day, you’re just another person. Your employees, investors, and competitors are all just people. Every individual has their own goals and desires outside of work. In being a good leader, it’s important to remember this. Take the time to get to know the people you interact with and meet them where they’re at. Once you understand someone’s motivations, strengths, and weaknesses you’ll be able to work more effectively with them.
When I was working on my own startup in college, I became frustrated when my teammates weren’t as motivated as I was or when they wouldn’t complete a certain task. Eventually, as I got to know my team, I was able to play to what their strengths and passions were. Once I knew what everyone cared about most and the kind of work that they liked doing, it became easier to delegate tasks.