As I’ve written before, I work with a number of startup companies. As part of my consulting practice as well as throughout my career, I also have worked with some very large organizations too. What struck me the other day as I was listening to a discussion between a founder and some other folks on the team was that the hardest part of being a startup isn’t necessarily finding the resources to keep the venture afloat until it reaches sustained profitability. It’s actually having to make a lot of decisions without a lot of certainty. Let me explain.
When I became a manager at the ripe old age of 23 many years ago, I worked under a guy who gave me some input but also let me figure things out for myself. I was working with a net in case I fell off the wire. When I reached a point where I really wasn’t certain about the “right” call, I consulted him. He, in turn, had bosses with whom he could consult if he wasn’t certain either. Over time my decision-making skills became better and my areas of expertise broadened, although there were still times when I ran for the help that was usually available to me. By the time I was managing managers I could make decisions fairly rapidly and I generally only hesitated when I thought the decision would involve corporate politics affecting more than just my department.
Most founders don’t have that luxury. Oh sure – the smart ones have a board of advisors that they consult regularly and that can help with the big decisions. But if you’ve ever managed you know that your day involves a lot of little decisions too. Should I let employee A take a vacation with a big project looming? Why is employee B struggling with an assignment? What is the best was to help employee C learn something? Even things like what font works in the newsletter or how big should a headline be in an ad often require the boss to decide. Those aren’t things that you ask your advisors and yet those decisions are the ones that take away your focus on the main business of the venture: customers, revenue, expenses, and profits.
There isn’t an easy answer here. Yes, hire people like me (or even better: hire me!) to provide the kind of on-going sounding board that one gets in a big organization until such time as your feet are on solid ground across many areas. When you do, be sure that the consultant you hire sees your world through your eyes and understands your point of view but also adds a broader perspective. I never try to make decisions for my clients but instead I try to guide them to a sound one themselves so they can understand the process, the factors involved, and all their options. If they’re heading down the wrong path I speak up. We often find a better path together and get through the hardest part as a team. You?
For our Foodie Friday Fun this week we’re having eggs. I love eggs. I also have a daughter who gags at the mere mention of them, so I’m well aware that my admiration of them isn’t universal. Too bad, because in addition to being part of many of the great dishes in the food world, eggs also provide a few insights into hiring.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Think for a second about the role an egg can play. A fried egg placed on a burger certainly isn’t meant to be the star of the show and often the burger is just fine without it. The egg, however, adds a richness and provides a secondary sauce, almost transforming mayo (if you use it) into a hollandaise. The egg is in a supporting role that makes the entire production better.
Then there are the dishes in which the egg is an equal player. A bacon, egg and cheese sandwich (one of the world’s great dishes, IMHO), plays the various flavors and textures off against one another and weaves them into a harmonious whole. No one flavor should dominate, and in this context we see the egg holding its own but playing nicely with the other components. Huevos Rancheros or Chilaquiles are other examples.
Finally, we have the egg as the star. Deviled eggs, egg salad, or some perfectly cooked scrambled eggs are dishes in which the egg must be front and center and in which lesser eggs means a lower quality dish. As it turns out, a few studies have found that it doesn’t really make a difference in taste or quality if you buy regular old supermarket eggs instead of from your local farm stand (but you should support your local folks anyway – it may not taste better but you’ll feel better).
What does this have to do with business? I want to hire employees who are good eggs, and I mean not just in temperament. I want people who can play any role from supporting to leading. I want people who work well with others. I want people who are versatile. I want them to be of high quality. In short, I want people who are as wonderful as an egg. Don’t you?
I used to have an occasional disagreement with a few of our sports TV producers back in the day. They were often reluctant to include certain sponsor things in the program, whether it was signage, a sponsored feature or adjusting the graphics to be sure the sponsor’s name and logo were a bit more prominent. Their complaint had to do with the aesthetics of the program and I certainly respected their point of view. That didn’t, however, prevent from reminding them that we were a commercial television entity and our jobs were to make commerce, not art.
I was reminded of that as I read some data on the importance of user experience. Clutch and Brave UX conducted a study of heavy Internet users – defined as those who use the Web for 4+ hours per day – to get a glimpse into how these Internet users interpret the user experience of popular websites. They asked about why people use the sites and how user-friendly the sites were. What they found is interesting although not particularly surprising.
In response to a question about how important certain factors are in the decision to keep using the site, the top factor was the site’s content. 94% said that they kept using the site because they found the content valuable. Right behind it, however, was the site’s ease of use. 93% of users cited that as important. Far fewer – 66% – cited how the site looked (the website is beautiful or attractive). It’s a good reminder that we’re making commerce and not art. A pretty website that’s unusable is a waste of money. Moreover, in my mind, a site that’s not designed with a great analytics implementation behind the world-class user experience is also a waste.
I’ve had clients who have spent hundred of thousands of dollars on a great looking site that’s fairly useless from a business perspective. Purchase funnels that can’t be tracked properly, no site search and the use of multiple subdomains were all wrapped in a gorgeous – but useless – package. We don’t need everything to be pretty as a picture. We need it to be valuable content presented in a highly usable manner, one that can be measured and improved upon. Make sense?