Call it intuition or ‘following your gut.’ It’s the ability to understand something without needing to use conscious reasoning.
Most founders start off with a strong sense of intuition. They have a good gut feeling for markets and technologies, for how a product can solve a specific problem, and for who’d be the right co-founder and first hires. At the same time, most founders are also strong “first principles” thinkers – a practice that helps them separate signal from noise, make quick decisions, and stay focused on the biggest priorities.
But something changes as start-ups go from 0 to 1, raise a few financing rounds, and add some VC board members. There’s pressure to “professionalize” and many founders feel the need to start implementing best practices, use playbooks, rely on data or consensus to make decisions, and add senior managers “that have seen and done it before.”
And while any of these strategies can be important when scaling a company, there’s a risk of replacing a founder’s inner wisdom with generic management processes that might work in a mature company environment but not for a start-up that is pushing innovation and trying to reinvent some aspect of the world.
When founders can instill their intuition and first principles thinking throughout the whole organization, they have a unique ability to keep the company focused and drive people to take risks. But for that to happen, founders need to fully trust their abilities and double down on what got them here in the first place.
Don’t see yourself as the founder CEO that simply hires a senior management team to manage the company for you. Instead, work closely with every member of your management team so that they understand what is important for the organization to succeed.
Don’t simply delegate key areas to someone that has seen and done it before. Instead, make sure that key processes are optimized for your company and your specific situation.
Don’t give up on applying your intuition and first principles thinking because you think you should give the organization some space. Instead, push your intuition and your first principle thinking in key decisions and teach other people in the organization to develop similar skills.
So many promising start-ups fail to develop their full potential when founders step back from being involved. Stepping in and pushing your intuition and first principle thinking throughout the organization creates friction, but it is that friction that creates truly generational companies.