Top 15 insights on how to operate as a startup leader

Recently came across a great conversation between Keith Rabois and AngelList, back from Aug’18. So many tactical insights for operators, founders, big co./ startup teams, or anyone who is interested in understanding how leaders should operate on-the-ground. My key takeaways below:

  1. Talent can be classified into “Barrels” (can independently execute end-to-end, from idea to product-in-market) and “Ammunition” (require supervision, execute only specific elements well). The number of Barrels in your team governs how many parallel things you can do.
  2. Every business can be ultimately distilled into an “equation”, with key revenue & cost variables that ultimately drive profit. Founders need to understand their business’s equation really well, which is what drives strategic insights that lead to better decisions.
  3. A key job of a founder or CXO is to compress “time” for the business, via a communication strategy of “simplify” and “clarify”.
  4. In the majority of cases, larger engineering teams tend to slow execution down. Paraphrasing a quote by Eric Schmidt — “one of the most powerful things is 2 engineers working together”.
  5. Put your best people on the most challenging problems, irrespective of what it does to your org. chart.
  6. The more transparency around data and information that the CEO can create, the better everyone else can make day-to-day operating decisions that align with the company goals and strategy.
  7. There is a saying in sports that a particular team has been “coached to play fast”. This is what startup leaders need to do to increase the speed of execution — coach their teams in a way that they can take fast decisions & react instantly, and in high fidelity to company goals.
  8. As a leader, it’s important to speak in “Whys?”, and not “What we are doing?”.
  9. As a leader, it’s important to change your management style as per the kind of individuals or teams you are working with at a particular point in time.
  10. The CEO is the “Chief Editor” of the company. You aren’t actually doing a lot of the functional work yourself but your key job is to a) simplify things for others, 2) create consistency across teams, and 3) create a coherent narrative & voice, internally & externally.
  11. As a founder, it’s important to understand the difference between a “bad” team and an “incomplete” team. Both require very different strategies.
  12. Best way to onboard talent (from intern to exec) -> start with as narrow a scope as possible, let them succeed at it, and then keep expanding their scope & pushing their range.
  13. Hiring is a muscle — you get stronger as you do more of it.
  14. An important question to answer while hiring: are you hiring for upside creation (is there a spark?) or downside protection (rigorous value creation role)?
  15. A simple best practice to improve hiring is to borrow your network to vet candidates and do comprehensive reference checks.

I already started implementing a bunch of these at my startup Workomo. Would love to know if you have used some of these tenets in the past, and your experience/ key learnings from it.

Author: Soumitra Sharma

Operator-Angel I Product Leader I US-India corridor I Believer in Power Laws I Love building & learning

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