Love the plateau

Love the Plateau. What does that mean? Say you have a goal to climb a mountain. You want to reach extreme heights and take in the view from high above the earth. Now say you are three days into your journey, and you suddenly find yourself walking across a plateau. It would be easy to get discouraged. This isn’t what you signed up for. Nobody told you there was a plateau here. You are passing time and doing work by walking, but you aren’t getting any closer to your goal. Loving the plateau is the notion that it is part of the journey. You can’t control the existence of this plateau, but you can keep walking while you observe your surroundings and look for a way to start moving higher again. Loving the plateau is just way to say love the work.

My plateau

As you can see, I have been living on a plateau. I expected to have nine new clients through May, and instead I have one. Sometimes I feel as if I am not making any progress, so I go for a walk and list out the things I can control. I can’t control whether or not the people I talk to are ready to make a buying decision this month or next year. In some cases, I can’t even directly control whether or not I meet people that can use the services we provide.

First 5 months of new clients at databasically

So instead I remind myself that this plateau is not infinite. I love the work, so I choose to love this plateau too. I can directly control how many people I meet and talk to. I can influence how many people know what we do and understand how we provide value. If someone needs the value provide, they are a lead.

Progress

It turns out if I split new clients into a 2 stage funnel, first collecting leads and then bringing in new clients, I can show some progress towards the goal.

First 5 months new leads at databasically

Even though I am not where I thought I would be, I am following this line upwards. I have also spent between between 84 and 100 hours in April and May teaching a Ruby on Rails class at Kauffman Labs. This tells me that I am doing pretty well, especially given how thin I have stretched myself. The worst case scenario here is that a very low percentage of leads will become clients, but even then, some will become clients.

Return on time investment

The problem with loving the plateau is that it violates what we are taught smart business people do. Smart business people, we are told, spend their time on their highest leverage activities. In other words, they spend time like it is money, seeking out the best return on their time investment. They also examine their time outlays for changes in results. They ask themselves if spending 10% more time will also increase the results by 10%. If the results will be flat, increasing time by 10% is an obviously bad decision, so smart business people will move on to other activities.

Education vs execution

Mark Suster likes to ask if you are ready to learn or ready to earn.

There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.

-von Neuman

My main goal at Databasically is to build a marketing and sales process from scratch. We have clients and are very good at what we do, but communicating that value and proactively finding clients is not something we have done before. More importantly, it’s not something I have done before. I know lots of the right things to do, how to build relationships, several sales and marketing strategies we can deploy, and who to ask when I get stuck. But at the end of the day, I am still stretching myself in this role. I can’t rely on the measuring stick used by smart business people because I can’t accurately predict results or how long it should take to see results. Since I don’t even know what I am talking about, I avoid the smart business person approach at times. Having a metric that I know is increasing and will lead to my goal makes this easier to accept.

Don’t love the plateau too much

However, there are lots of problems with living in a plateau. If you endlessly march forward, you are likely to do lots of work, but you may not notice opportunities to improve along the way. You must be aware of your surroundings and learning throughout your plateau. When you combine a commitment to educate yourself with leading through action, you will find that people want to follow you. As an entrepreneur, you can’t just blindly march through the plateau with employees behind you. Everyone can spot a death march. Commit to making your plateau a mission of discovery. Continue to learn.

Learning versus doing aka leadership through service

Loving the plateau makes it easier to lead through action. It makes it easier to slog through a tough day, and it helps to keep you focused on your goals. Educating yourself is all about looking around on the plateau. It makes it easier to find your way off the plateau, and for you to predict some of your results next time you encounter a similar plateau.

So love the plateau. Love the learning experience. But love them together, and be attentive to the balance. This is one of the true keys of leadership.

 

Notes

I value being completely honest, telling the whole truth. So here are a few things that you should know matter, but that I chose not to share:

  • Percentage of leads that gave us a permanent no.
  • Not all leads are created equal. If you are overloaded to the point that working a new lead means ceasing to work an existing one, you probably should know how to pick between them.
  • It is risky to assume that more leads equals more sales. But it is riskier to build a sales and marketing process without any leads.

From feeble to fearless

Willis F. Jackson III at Big Omaha 2013

Onstage at Big Omaha 2013 without a shirt - photo by @justinbrand

How did I end up here?

Want to know why I am fearless enough to stand on stage at Big Omaha in front of hundreds of people and take off my shirt? What follows is an outline of how I got there, and how I think you could too. Don’t complain about the length. Personal change doesn’t happen overnight.

Big Omaha 2, 2010

In May of 2010, I was completely unsatisfied with my corporate engineering sales job and subsequently trying to decide where to take my career. My first love was entrepreneurship, and I had it on my mind all the time. I found out about Big Omaha randomly and drove up from KC by myself not knowing what to expect.

My Big Omaha Story

On display during Big Omaha 2013

I remember the night of the opening party. It took me three drinks before I could muster the courage to have a conversation with anyone, and bless that poor woman’s heart, I talked her ear off so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone else. Through the conference, I managed to meet a few people who remain friends to this day. Every single person I met and talked to seemed to be genuinely interested in everyone else, and willing to help. When it came time to listen to the speakers, I was captivated. Despite my nerves, it was a transformative experience.

By the time I left, I was convinced that entrepreneurship was where I should spend my career. I remember driving out of Omaha talking on speakerphone with my wife, telling her through tears that I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

Living through pain

I spent the next year trying to convince her that we should sell our house and most of our possessions so that I could devote more time to starting my business. It did not go well, and it was an extremely difficult time in our lives. I have never experienced unhappiness like I did during December 2010, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. With the help of some friends, we made it through the worst bits. By March of 2011, we were in marriage counseling working to figure out how to live together in our new reality.

Big Omaha 3, 2011

Since Big Omaha had a huge impact on me, I figured that maybe it would work on my wife too. I was also writing for Silicon Prairie News and volunteering at the event. I had been working on a project in my spare time that attempted to fix some issues in alcohol distribution, so I hustled a chat with Gary V. I knew he could give some great input, and he told me the one thing that killed the idea, which was a good thing. It saved me tons of time.

One night, I was out at a party and went up to ask Dan Martell some questions about his presentation. After a short chat, he introduced me to someone else, telling them I was a badass. I was so embarrassed that I could barely make eye contact with them. He asked me when I was going to quit my job, and after trying to avoid answering, I settled on December 31, 2011.

Out at dinner with Dwolla during Big Omaha 2011

Out at dinner with Dwolla and my wife during Big Omaha 2011

When my wife and I were driving out of Omaha, on the same stretch of road where I called her a year before, I asked her what she thought.

Well, I mean, there are LOTS of crazy people.

This was a major win. Until this point, she basically thought that I had gone completely insane. I was able to convince her that a career in entrepreneurship didn’t necessarily mean we would die poor, even though it was a possibility. Two months later, I had sold my car, listed our house with a real estate agent, and was turning in my two weeks notice at work.

Doing things I don’t like to do

What followed in the next few months was difficult. We were forced to downsize our lives to a minimum and live off of much less money than we were used to. We lived in my parents basement for six months. I founded a new startup. I learned to cold call. I read intensely. I complained a ton about everything. I was the Louis C. K. of startups, but I wasn’t funny. I still feel pretty bad for how I treated my friends.

Despite all of that, I pushed myself to get out and try my hardest. My friend Neight Allen and I spent two weeks on a roadtrip to San Francisco, begging for couches to sleep on throughout the trip. I really didn’t like it.

Neight Allen in San Francisco

Neight Allen in San Francisco

Big Omaha 4, 2012

By this time around, I was in the throes of my startup. I had just returned from another SXSW and was feeling the grind but not making much progress. I knew the opportunity was there, but I just couldn’t unlock it. I was lucky to even be able to attend. Even though my fear of just about everything had been disappearing for some time, I wasn’t able to put myself out there. I didn’t feel like I was making good enough progress.

I honestly didn’t talk to very many people, but was thankful to have a supporting community around me. I left knowing that I needed to do some soul searching to grow. A few months later, I let go of all of my community responsibilities.

Personal growth

Through the last year, I have shut down my startup, joined a friends company, and put myself in a position to earn my way to what I want. I have chosen to get back to basics and started rereading some books that have helped me to rediscover my center. When I combined this with all of the time I have spent pushing my own boundaries, I discovered that I don’t have anything to be afraid of anymore.

Big Omaha 5, 2013 – Live and in living color

Watch the first 8 minutes of the video. It’s pretty funny.

In summary, I am fearless today because of all of the times I have felt terrible in the last several years. I was willing to throw everything away, and it caused me tremendous pain. I forced myself to do lots of things that I didn’t like, pushing the boundaries within myself. I chose to grow as a person and reclaim control over myself. In the process, I discovered the things that truly matter to me, and I didn’t have to give up anything that I really care about. I am in control of my life and I enjoy everyday as an opportunity to live up to my values and to pursue my career goals. At this point, I am not sure what I could possibly be afraid of.

Remote workers: A good idea or not?

In the course of my career, I have changed my mind several times about the usefulness of employees that work remotely. During my time at a corporate job, I insisted that I would be more effective if I were allowed to work remotely for a day or two each week. In this case, I was advocating for fewer interruptions by working from home. But what if I had lived in a different city?

More recently, I have started to think that having a distributed team or a portion of your workforce living in different cities could work, but that it would harm the adoption and spread of company culture. I recently met Ernie Miller and Zach Briggs at Ruby Midwest and talked at length about why they thought remote work was beneficial. They made some good points and I think there are certain situations where it can work and others where it will not. Here is what I learned.

Written communication is key

In order for someone to be a remote team member, they have to be excellent at written communication. Regular, close proximity communication with other people uses lots of non-verbal cues. When you are remote, you don’t have the benefit of these non-verbal cues, so your remote team members have to excel at effectively communicating with their teammates. This not only means knowing how to get your point across, but it also means knowing how to tailor your message to different individuals so that they understand you clearly and knowing when you have failed.

It’s not for everyone

But it can be. If you aren’t interested in being excellent, then you will have problems. Being great at written communication is something we should all attempt, but it takes work. If you haven’t put in the work to be great at written communication but you want to work remotely, you may have to work in close physical proximity for a while. Until you develop the necessary skills, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be a good remote employee.

What if remote employees are happier?

I personally care about happiness. I don’t think much else matters in the long run. This leads me to ask myself a few questions to which I don’t have answers:

  • what does it tell me if remote employees are happier than on-site employees?
  • if an individual employee is happier working remotely, should you let them?
  • if the overall team is happier when an employee is local, should you insist on it?

A few things to watch out for

When someone is remote, it is crucial that they are available in internal chat rooms or video chat tools. Furthermore, if you have very empathic individuals in your team, they should have access to your remote teammates. I have a tendency to notice when someone is feeling a little bit down, stressed, tired, or just needs some time to vent. It isn’t always easy for me to notice these cues and help people out when they are remote, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. If both the remote teammate and the empathic teammate work to keep communication effective, I think it can work.

Things you will miss completely

If someone on your team is in a different city, you can fly them in every once in a while if you just want to see them, but what about the rest of their life? I like getting to know the families of the people I work with. It helps me to build context and understand their view of the world, which in turn makes it easier for me to relate to them. I have worked for people that use this as a tactic for manipulative management, but I come by it honestly. I really want people to have every opportunity to be great, and I find that this context helps me to set others up for success.

What do you think?

This is a bit of an exploration for me, and I am curious to hear more opinions. Where do you think remote teams break down? Do you think junior employees work well remotely? What kind of procedures keep remote teams working as if they were local? Is there a way to build a richer life context around remote teammates?

My vision for the KC startup community

This past December, I shared my personal vision for our community with a few of the fine folks at Startup America Partnership when they were in town. They seemed to like it, so I am sharing it here.

It has always been important to me that we capitalize on what makes us unique. There are lots of places you can go with that, but I always come back to family. Kansas City is a great place to start, raise, and be a family. That’s not to say it isn’t a great if you are single or career oriented, but family is where we excel. In KC, it is completely normal to make eye contact with a stranger and share a smile. It is a friendly city with a rich culture and history. But does the extended family created by a startup get equal footing? Is my spouse, married to the entrepreneurs lifestyle, better off in KC than she would be if we lived elsewhere? I don’t think she is, but my childhood tells me it is possible.

I grew up in a military family. Four of my uncles were active duty in various branches, as were two grandparents. Both of my parents were active duty Army. To this day, I claim no hometown, but I do get that comfortable feeling of belonging when I find myself on a military base. Military families share a unique bond forged through the stresses of unique situations. It is easier to make friends because everyone moves every three years. It is easier to support one another when a parent is absent because everyone’s parent is absent. It is hard to relate with distant relatives that are outside the military community because they don’t understand the stresses. When someone new arrives, many community organizations work to make sure that they get settled in and feel comfortable. If a global conflict breaks out, soldiers can be deployed in very short time frames. Things change rapidly and sometimes without notice.

There is an old saying in military communities that ‘soldiers don’t fight wars, families do.’ While I usually shy away from analogies between war and nearly anything (there isn’t much risk of dying because you started a company), I think it is very appropriate here. The saying points out that for soldiers to be able to fight wars, their families have to invest as much as the soldier. The stress is unreal, and it demands total buy-in from everyone that loves that soldier.

Entrepreneurship is different from fighting wars, but the effects on families are very similar. The moment I quit my steady paying job to start a company, my family life changed permanently. Relatives can’t understand what my wife is feeling. Our situation changes quickly as one idea fails validation, then another. I am often absent, sometimes even when I am sitting next to her on the couch. If at any point my wife decides that she is not committed, she can bring our whole world to a screeching halt.

I want Kansas City to be like all of those Army bases I lived on as a kid. I see a future where KC is the best place in the world to start a company if you have a family. In this future we have a thriving community that is woven together not by the entrepreneurs, but by the shared experience of our spouses and children. Community organizations readily welcome families that are new to entrepreneurship, make sure they get settled, and give them an understanding shoulder to cry on when things are tough. Our children have an easier time making friends because they suddenly aren’t the only kid in the neighborhood where there were no holiday gifts because mom or dad decided to start a new business. I have lived all over this country, from Alaska to Alabama. I want to finally have a hometown and I see no place better than here.

It is my mission to see this vision become reality, and I am willing to work on it for the rest of my career. If it resonates with you, reach out in the comments.

My personal core values

What is a core value? A core value is something is you believe in so much, that you value so much, that life wouldn’t be worth living without it. Many people find it difficult to accept those circumstances because we obviously have an impact on the world we live in. Still, if these things were simply not possible, I would have a hard time finding value in life.
Accomplish something
If we don’t accomplish something, why do we come together at all?

Tell the whole truth
Share only and all of what we know to be true. If we always start with the truth, we can work together to find our way through anything.

Share your gifts
Who we are and what we do can have a positive impact on our world. We wouldn’t be standing on the shoulders of giants if they didn’t share their gifts. Be the giants of tomorrow.

Put happiness first
When we do things that make us happy, life is always good.

Find the right balance
This does not mean compromise. It does not mean design by consensus. The success of any pursuit involves finding the appropriate balance between multiple factors. Some objectives will require 95% of factor A and 5% of factor B. Be willing to find the right balance.

 

If you see me do something that doesn’t fit my values, please speak up! I try to live my life according to my values, but I am human.

When 1% isn’t really worth it

I worked for 4 different managers at UPS. Two of them were excellent, but the way I felt working for them was very different.

The first was John. At UPS, I had to be into the office at 4am. I am not a morning person and this was a constant struggle for me. I literally had 3 different alarm clocks set to go off every morning to ensure that I would get up, and I still would sleep through them 1 time a quarter. When I switched to this morning schedule, John asked me if it would be a problem and I assured him I could handle it, though it would be tough. I am sure I was late several times over the next few weeks, and by week three he was giving me looks and reminding me how important it was to be on time.

Sometime around the 4th week, I was really late, and he sat me down when I came in. He told me that we had to make a change. I thought for sure he was going to fire me. He said that I had lots of potential and he knew this was tough for me, but that there was no amount of potential in the world that could make up for this kind of performance. He thought he should let me go, but he was pretty sure I could get it fixed. This was my last chance. John made it clear that he cared about me and that he was going to invest in me if I could get my act together.

Over the next year, he made efforts to get to know me on my terms. He met my girlfriend. I invited him to a tailgate and he bothered to show up. He made sure they adjusted my schedule to fit with my classes. He put me in positions to demonstrate my strengths and to contain and work on my weaknesses. He was always personable when he asked for extra effort, longer hours, and additional sacrifice. I never felt he abused the power and that he knew what he was asking me to give up when he needed more.

John was promoted and Ryan showed up. Ryan was younger, an up and coming guy. Ryan was promoted from shift supervisor to manager of our branch, but he had a reputation for getting great performance from his teams, so we were excited. But something was immediately different about Ryan. He made the efforts to meet my girlfriend, he knew my birthday, and he even knew what a technology geek I was, but it never felt genuine.

After graduating college, I moved to a new facility in a full-time management role, and Ryan became our facility manager shortly thereafter. Things were tough, and Ryan was always asking for that extra effort. I loved what I was doing and I loved fixing things in a high performing team, so I was always ready to step up. But when my career felt stagnant, I went to him for input. His only advice was to get better and I would be promoted. When all of the extra hours started to hurt my relationships with friends and my wife, I would point it out. My best friend hadn’t seen me in 3 months. “That’s the job,” Ryan said. At that moment, I finally realized that Ryan didn’t care much for my own sacrifices, he didn’t care what I gave up to make him look good. He was just pulling the strings he had access to in order to do his job as well as he possibly could. To him, I was a means to an end. I tried to transfer out, and when that failed, I left UPS.

I should point out that they both held me accountable. When my work was subpar, I knew it. When I missed a deadline, they both made sure I knew how much it cost my teammates and the impact on our collective goals. But trust was always a part of the conversations with John. In retrospect, I can say that I did my best work when Ryan was managing, but only by a very slim margin. The cost of that tiny amount of difference in my work product was a relationship that was destined to be short lived. When you are managing employees, you have to be aware of your goals. Are you managing for the long-term? Do you want a sustainable and high performing team that does work that is better than 99.9% of the teams out there? Or are you trying to pump and dump? Eventually your employees will figure it out if you haven’t already.

Getting comfortable with the Bay Area

San Francisco and the Bay Area are a really odd place. The first thing you should know if you are planning on coming out here is that San Francisco is NOT an urban city. It is almost 100% suburban. It is a royal pain in the ass to get around and expensive to boot. In San Francisco proper, your choices are car, foot, bicycle, or bus. None of them are good choices, but I am starting to enjoy myself. For starters, I really enjoy the diversity out here. It is not for everyone, but I find it utterly refreshing. On the other hand, I don’t like how many people appear to be homeless. It is more than a little bit disturbing, especially when so many appear to have mental health problems.

Filling gaps

Still, today has been great and I am touching on all of my objectives. If you want to be a better entrepreneur, you should be trying to network. For example, sometime over a year ago I randomly found Vik Duggal on Twitter. He has a great attitude and I appreciated his approach to life. We chatted a bit and I managed to stay in touch. He works in sales and has been moving gradually from the enterprise to startups over the last several years. When I heard that he would be at SXSW (though this could have very easily happened out here instead), I asked if we could get together and noted that I was looking for some help with my understanding of sales and building a process that works for me. Vik and I got together, he asked me what I was trying to do, and then he immediately recommended I talk to one of his colleagues, Yuri Alexandrovski.

This morning, Yuri and I got to sit down and he really helped me to reframe my understanding of what to do after positive cold calls, how to segment objectives when contacting potential customers, and perhaps most importantly, how I might be able to save a recent failure on my part with my best prospect to date. I can’t underscore how meaningful it was for me to get this kind of help and how well targeted his input was to my situation. And the best part is that he offered to help out other people in KC if I know anyone that could use a hand figuring out sales (if this is you, let me know).

Catching up

Then in the afternoon I ran over to catch up with Jon Crawford at the Storenvy offices. They have a pretty swank place in The Mission neighborhood that I think probably fits Jon pretty well. Despite the fact that Jon and I never knew one another when he lived in KC, he has taken time out to help me in the past, showing me how to navigate the world of multiparty payments when I was working on Mashtun Beer. We grabbed some lunch, which was crazy delicious, and he even spotted me a few bucks since it was cash only. So he has good taste and he hasn’t lost his midwestern sense of lending a hand. And yes, I am paying him back.

Quesadilla Castillito al pastor

The cool Storenvy office

Networking

I have been hacking away at my work since then and the day isn’t even over. Tonight Nate and I are heading over to a sweet party, so we should get to meet and network with a quality crowd. All three objectives in one day seems like a good day.

San Francisco trip

I am still somewhat surprised that people are ever interested in what I am doing, but you might be curious about this long trip to SF that Nate Allen and I have been on.

For starters, we drove out here and are mostly interested in just seeing what the fuss is all about. Not only have many of our friends from KC recently moved out here, but many of my friends from other places have recently made the move as well.

I did have some concrete objectives before heading out. First was to touch base with as many of the midwest converts as possible. I love catching up with them and especially reminding people of how well things are improving back home. I also try to remind them that we are rooting for them, we love and miss them, and that at least I am always ready to help if they can find a way. Second was to find places and people that I could turn to when I have a gap in knowledge and I need help filling it. This has been coming up more lately, and while I have fantastic mentors in KC, I still needed more help. Third was to make connections with new people, both for myself and to bring those back to our community. Yes, that means if I know someone that you think can help you, I am happy to talk about it and make an introduction where appropriate.

Yesterday we had a chat with Royce Haynes about maybe doing this trip again in the future with more people. I like the idea so if you are interested in a cool road trip to see the ropes in San Francisco, let me know. We think having about 8 people would work well.

What encourages startup ecosystem growth?

I was having lunch today with one of my friends, Alejandro ‘Alex’ Barrera, as well as with a few others, and as these things tend to go when a group of startup people get together, the conversation quickly turned to our communities. When I first met Alex, we had a connection because we both worried about and worked hard to help our communities. Kansas City and Madrid have lots of commonalities, and fortunately both have been steadily improving and growing since then.

Our conversation had lots of meaningful ideas, from the idea that companies should swing for the fences, that the number of people starting companies doesn’t affect the percentage of them that are likely to succeed, to whether or not it is important to focus on validating your company with revenue. However, Alex mentioned something that I hadn’t thought of much before. Maybe I had sort of sensed this before, but he said something that is making a big difference in Europe is that people in different communities are starting to travel more. So the entrepreneurs in Madrid are going to Paris, Prague, and Amsterdam, and vice versa.

We didn’t get to explore why that matters so much, so I started thinking about it some more. Whenever I travel, I am trying to meet more entrepreneurs and more people doing cool stuff. When I get home, I try to connect those people I have just met with people in the KC community. In doing so, I not only expand the power of the network of KC entrepreneurs, but I can hopefully provide a connection that is individually valuable to someone.

I suppose that is what Neight and I are doing out here in San Francisco. I intend to meet people and try and help both them and myself, but I really want to bring connections back to my community. Where are you travelling to in 2012 to help the KC community?

The single most important leadership concept

First, I am no expert on leadership. I have led a variety of groups and organizations with lots of mixed results. What follows is my interpretation of what I have seen combined with things I have been taught by others.

Every organization, no matter the size, age, mission, or makeup of members, requires leadership. That leadership can take many forms. It can be between friends who happen to be in the same organization. It can be between boss and employee. It can sometimes be employee leading boss, which is one of my personal favorites.

Loads of leadership books throughout history have espoused the secrets of this or that (like Tribal Leadership, one of my personal favorites). But leadership is really about just one thing. It is about saying to the people around you, “We know X on this map is where we want to go, and we may not take the most direct route to get there, but where we don’t know what to do, we will have to trust one another so we can figure it out, and if we do that, we will make it.” That is it. All of leadership, organizational psychology, human interaction, and the majority of uncomfortable situations with groups of people boils down to that one single concept.

When we start out on a difficult journey, it takes a certain amount of trust for us to want to work together. The further we are from our goal, the more trust it takes someone to join us. The important thing is that we know where we want to go, but because our startup has so far to go, we know we are going to make lots of missteps along the way. As we make those missteps, we can easily stray way off course into the area of critical trust. Without lots of trust in one another, we will not make it back into the more comfortable middle area. Instead, we will spend all of our time fighting about how we got here, whose fault it is, and how terribly doomed we are. People will quit. Feelings will get hurt. We will have to declare our mission a failure.

However, if we have that trust, we can lean on one another. Someone will notice that we have gone off course and notify the team. We will discuss what we can do to start heading towards the target. We will analyze whether or not we should keep pushing along a little to see if our original goal still makes sense to us. We will buckle our seatbelts and drive harder. People will find themselves in ‘the zone.’ Members of our team will feel like they are a part of something special.

Trust isn’t necessarily so easy to build. When a team is small, or someone is very inexperienced, the network of trust tends to look something like a hub and spoke.

Ignore the number of connections. I got tired of drawing links.

The problem with this approach is that people who are further away from you, that you interact with less regularly, are less likely to trust you. Inevitably we all reach a number of relationships where we can longer invest the necessary time to build and maintain trust. This type of leadership is an important learning and growth step, but it is ultimately unsustainable. As our startup grows and we add more people, we will find that they don’t trust us like we trusted one another when we first started. We may have made enough progress that the company marches on toward the goal, but if things get difficult, we will have a hard time convincing people to change course. Nonetheless, the feeling that this is something special disappears. Some of us will even start to dislike working in our startup. People will move on.

Instead of relying on yourself to be the center of your network, you realize that trust is the key component, not direct trust. You start investing your time and energy getting people around you to trust one another.

Now we are able to add new people to our intrepid group without destroying what made us successful in the first place. As new people join, we seek to get to know them personally and prove to them that we are trustworthy while asking them to do the same. Because we have an organization that is adept at building trusting networks, we have less immediate need for structure and find that our hierarchy is very flat. As time goes on, we realize we long ago passed our original goal and replaced it with something even further out.

When deciding who to work with, who to join, who to stand next to you when you pour your heart and soul into something, make sure you agree on goals and that you trust the other people. Everything that makes a group successful is some derivative of trust. Or is it? What have you found to be true?

Thanks to my buddy Chris Oliver for suggesting I turn this into a post. It helps to have people telling you to do the right things.