The Reum brothers, Courtney and Carter, are known for their roles on the television show Hatched. They are also behind many household brand names including big names such as Lyft, Pinterest, Warby Parker, and Shake Snack. Their new book, Shortcut Your Startup: Speed Up Success with Unconventional Advice from the Trenches is full of advice and shortcuts for those who want to take a start-up organization and scale it quickly.
In the Introduction of your book, you talk about both how it’s cheaper and easier than ever to start a business but also that the competition is more fierce than ever, too. What are the implications of these market forces?
The effects are twofold. On one hand, an abundance of resources has recently come into existence that—in a vacuum—would make life infinitely easier for any entrepreneur. Obvious examples are Kickstarter, social media marketing, Amazon’s e-commerce platform, data analytics—the list goes on. Obviously, these facilitate the arduous and historically expensive process of starting a business. Just look at the following graph showing the decrease in time needed to scale a brand.
Copyright Reum Brothers, Used by Permission.
The problem with these resources, however, is that everybody has access to them. Since these goods and services simplify business building, more and more people enter the landscape and competition increases. While the increased number of competitors certainly is an implication, a more important one is that it becomes significantly more difficult for the best business to separate itself from the crowd.
Use a Microscope and a Telescope
Another juxtaposition of ideas is from the old saying that you need to have a microscope on one eye and a telescope on another. You also use the speedboat versus sailboat analogy. Talk about this and how aspiring entrepreneurs need to understand the differences and their role.
Dr. Chuck Bamford’s new book, The Strategy Mindset, is a practical guide for creating a corporate strategy. Having read more books on strategy than I can remember, I particularly like this one. As I read the book, there were times I found myself arguing with the author. At other times, I was nodding. Still at other times, I found myself with immediately actionable ideas to improve the process at my own organization. And that’s why I enjoyed the read so much.
I think the most controversial part of his book is likely the myths section, where he takes apart existing myths of corporate strategy.
“Strategy is about making decisions that will impact the company in the future.” -Chuck Bamford
First, you say that people are not a competitive advantage. You argue that almost all employees are interchangeable. Good employees are just “table stakes.” Is it not possible to have employees who, on average, are better than the competition?
It flies in the face of so many beliefs that it is just hard to accept. Employees are VERY important as the way that business delivers to customers. However, the moment that you actually believe that your employees are smarter than your competitors’ is the moment that your competitors will start beating you in the market. You have the same (or relatively the same) collection of amazing employees, capable employees, and poor employees as your competitors. All the HR processes in the world today have not changed that dynamic in companies. The employees that you have working in your company are a combination of luck (the biggest factor), HR practices, networking, and did I mention luck!
I’m not trying to be divisive here, but most of your customers do not generally care (or if they care at all, it is slight) who takes care of their business needs as long as the needs are taken care of. This does not apply to every employee in a company, just most. At every company I have ever worked with or for, there is a contingent of “franchise” employees. Those are employees who, if they left the company, would impact the success of that company quite substantially. We all know who these folks are, and if executives are smart, they take care of these employees to ensure that they stay with the organization. These “franchise” employees are not just the customer-facing employees; they reside throughout an organization.
“Employees are not your competitive advantage.” -Chuck Bamford
Second, you are not a fan of the SWOT. What’s wrong with the way most organizations use it?
SWOT is the single biggest impediment to doing real strategy that exists, and it exists because certain big consulting firms continue to use it with their clients, and it makes clients “feel good” without really having to do strategy.
SWOT was an attempt to bring some structure to the topic, and as a conceptual approach, it is still fairly robust. Unfortunately, many authors, academics, and practitioners decided that SWOT was an analysis tool and a means for a company to develop its strategy. SWOT is NOT strategy, and it is not an analysis tool.
Anyone can create a SWOT. It is grounded in your own biases and view of the world. In the end, a SWOT is simply the opinion of the person or group filling it out.
“SWOT is the single biggest impediment to doing real strategy.” -Chuck Bamford
From menial tasks, like enforcing a tidy desk policy and coaching best practice for a tidy inbox, to motivating a team to double revenue year-on-year, it’s difficult picking appropriate techniques without falling into the trap of micro-management.
As President of the European Central Bank, and second on Fortune Magazine’s list, Draghi has a tough job on his hands. Despite this, his abilities to motivate and remain calm are great examples of skills that should be emulated by managers in all fields.
1). Keep your team motivated:
We wouldn’t blame Mario for succumbing to the stress of maintaining financial unity across 18 countries, although he’s yet to do so.
Despite having one of the toughest and most significant jobs in the world, his pledge to do ‘whatever it takes’ to preserve the euro – as well as boasting the nickname Super Mario – highlights his motivational skills.
Managers should take heed of this approach, remembering staff morale often rests heavily on your own emotions; if you’re stressed, rest assure they will be too. If things are getting a little shaky within the business, keep the team motivated – chances are the positivity will help pull you all back out of a slump.
“The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.” -Lee Iacocca
Mario’s often praised for his down-to-earth approach to his job; something arguably unexpected when under so much pressure. Draghi’s less than lavish lifestyle outside the office – his family celebrated his son’s graduation in a pizzeria in Milan – keep him grounded in work, too.
We’re not suggesting you remove all luxuries from your life, just don’t spend hours bragging about big expenses to staff that cannot afford the same – it’ll only create barriers. Remaining down to earth is a great way to ensure team members can speak to you openly and avoids issues with secrecy or intimidation.
Now a few months into his second year as leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is responsible for economic reforms at the Vatican and has driven a spiralling discussion on divorce and homosexuality throughout the Church.
Unfortunately, a manager isn’t always right, so it’s important to accept that decision making isn’t a lone task.
Francis demonstrates enthusiasm for learning from the people around him, creating a Council of Cardinal Advisers comprised of eight members from across the world with ideologically varied views. This group advises him on all major actions and has been deemed the ‘most important decision-making force in the Vatican,’ by John L. Allen, author of The Francis Miracle: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church.
When heading a team, don’t be afraid to ask for advice from staff. Weigh up opinions and come to a conclusion based on this. Even if you still opt for your original decision, it’ll feel reassuring to know others are backing your verdict.
4). Lead with humility:
Asserting authority doesn’t have to go hand in hand with bossiness, and it’s important to remember how important your staff are – you wouldn’t be able to do your job without them.
Be more approachable by immersing yourself into the business – as well as the office. Francis is a clear advocate for leading with humility, and you can imitate this quality, starting with simple steps, like abandoning your office for a desk space next to your colleagues, or spending less on lavish business lunches.