Why Every Startup Needs a Coach ?
Why Every Startup Needs a Coach ?
«Entrepreneurship can be a lonely game. High pressure, high stakes, and little guidance. A good coach can make all the difference.»
Entrepreneurs, just like athletes, have days when they feel stronger than others and have more energy. Regardless of how you feel, a steady routine, be it on the field, in the gym or at the office, helps you progress. And your individual progress and focus on becoming a stronger and better prepared individual makes the team better.
Routines allow you to be prepared for whatever comes your way so you know what to do, when to do it, and you can work from instinct developed from their repetition. I once worked with a RegTech startup who each day came in at the same time, had a clear plan for the day, and had weekly progress reports and accountability. It was easy to see they were doing the best they could to set themselves up for success.
There is a saying in sports that champions are made in the offseason and with the teams that I was part of when we worked hard in the offseason to improve skills – they were always the teams that succeeded and had the best chance of winning. It wasn’t just the physical part of getting faster and stronger, but also knowing that you were working harder than your competition so you had a mental edge come game time. The mind is powerful in that way and routine helps support it.
Individual routines are only as successful as the plan leadership has in place behind them and how well that plan is communicated and brought to life. Is the routine related to what the team actually needs? If you’re a pitcher in baseball and all you do is work on your hitting skills, that won’t make the team holistically better. There are two likely reasons for why this might have occurred. One is that the coach didn’t properly communicate your role, so you assumed one thing while the coach had another in mind. Or you could have ignored the coach’s instructions. Both are major challenges and can hurt the success of the team and cause friction within it.
From a business and company point of view you can see how this translates. If a Founder/CEO/Manager is not clear enough and can’t communicate the big picture it creates unnecessary roadblocks. And if you have an employee who doesn’t listen and does their own thing, it can cause a breakdown in the team. So how do you manage? Can you make the tough decisions as a leader to get the team working together? I worked with a startup in the past composed of three passionate and hardworking individuals. The defacto CEO had 10 more years of business experience than his team and often expressed this to the other two in a negative way demanding to do all the “important tasks”. His team were more than capable and had tremendous skills that weren’t tapped into because the leader of the company never let them own something, develop, and grow. After four months the company faded away and folded as the two younger founders lost their passion and no longer felt a sense of purpose and drive. It’s a situation that could have been avoided with a stronger leader or coach who understood the importance of teamwork.
«A ‘no’ might feel like a loss, but you can learn from it instead of feeling defeated and that makes all the difference.»
In baseball, a hitter who gets a hit three out of 10 times at bat for their career is considered a ‘Hall of Famer’. Best of the best. But if you look at it more closely, that person has failed 70 percent of the time. A hitter knows this going in, but still works hard to achieve a level of success. You will have hitters that will go without a hit for 20 chances and who will have a negative mindset and will be down and feel unproductive or that they let the team down, but they need to get up, try again, learn from the past mistakes, and keep going.
This is exactly what it’s like to be a startup founder. So many rejections from investors, from clients, etc. You’ll get great feedback but no result. It’s easy then not to work hard and keep trying, but the successful learn from rejection and move forward – in sport and in business.
And hey, maybe as a founder you get three or four hits in a row. During my time working within startups, it took over a year and a half to win our first client. Meeting after meeting, and so many of the: ‘thanks, but we’re not ready’ conversations. It can all feel like code for, ‘you’re not good enough and we’re not interested’. Even after feeling like we needed to pivot dramatically after all the rejection, we stuck to our original plan and eventually won our first client. Each ‘no’ felt like a loss, but we learned from it instead of feeling defeated and that made all the difference.
«Simplify everything and focus on controlling what you can control, which is preparation.»
It’s late in the game, the bases are loaded, your team is winning by one run, and you are on the mound pitching to the biggest, strongest player on the opposing team. The game rests on your shoulders, if you give up a run your team loses, if you pitch him out, your team wins. So how do you deal with the pressure? Do you cave? Or do you step up to the challenge with your shoulders back and chest up? I had the privilege last year to play for the Swiss National Baseball Team in a European tournament where we played a very close game, and I was pitching the last four innings. It was a tie and had been very close throughout. A 45-minute rain delay added to the drama. I 100% felt the pressure but didn’t let it show and our team did an amazing job pulling out a victory and ultimately winning the tournament. It was a first in Swiss baseball history (which in fairness, isn’t very long).
The same kind of pressure is faced often as a startup. You have an important meeting with an investor to close after months of due diligence, for example. You need to trust that you’ve prepared the best, you have all the numbers in your mind, you have a good control of your company and your strategy and the plans. You might have stayed up all night to work on the pitch and you go into the meeting with the pressure of needing to close the deal. How then should you handle the situation?
Answer: Simplify everything and focus on controlling what you can control, which is preparation. In sport, you can’t control the umpires or the other players. But you can practice all the possible scenarios on the field ahead of game day. In business, you can’t control how the other side of the table will react and you can’t read their minds. I took part in an investor day once and was working with a startup on their presentation and pitch. Prior to the event the presenter was in the bathroom and so nervous he had made himself physically ill. In the audience were two investors who we knew were very keen on the solution but when the presenter went on stage, he folded. Sweating, nervous, he had tried to memorize his speech, but he was fully unprepared, and it showed. He and his team learned from the experience and from that time forward were always prepared and that preparation calmed his nerves and now he has become one of the better public speakers I have seen.
In sport, you need a wide variety of skills to achieve success. In baseball, for example, you need strong hitters – some who can hit left-handed, some right, and some hitters who have speed and can bunt. Power pitchers and finesse pitchers… you need a range of talent because although teams with limited skill sets do win games, the more variety and depth you have, the better you can face new challenges and markets.
In the business world, especially when it comes to startups, you could similarly find that you have a team full of power hitters that is able to achieve early success. But as you grow as a team and expand your business, a well-balanced team is key. Different backgrounds, skill sets, experiences, etc. all give your startup a chance to understand markets and to widen the understanding of different areas of the business such as technology or marketing that you wouldn’t have in a less diverse team.
As a founder, how you build your team, and the makeup of your team is going to be key to the growth of your company. Not only when it comes to hiring the right people, but when it comes to empowering them to perform and deliver to the best of their abilities. I worked with a team once who had all come from the same company and eventually grew their new company to 50 people with an amazing, diverse culture and passion demonstrated by the whole team. From day one they made it their mission to focus on their HR roadmap and what would give their company the best chance of success in terms of hires and required talents. A good coach will help you to keep this in mind. Focus and foresight when looking at how to build your team will reap benefits years later as your company grows.