As a founder, how can you be realistic about solutions that will sell, but also remain driven by passion and optimism?
Over 10 years of facilitating programmes for start up founders, I’ve been fascinated by what works to keep the books balanced and the heart still in the business – both for the founder herself and for her customers, funders and champions. This is what I’ve learnt so far:
Feeling well informed about the regulatory steps to set up on your own or start a company, including what legal structure to adopt, how to manage finances, what accreditations and insurance you need. Start up founders rightly want to have a good grasp of these fundamentals, partly to make sure they’re operating within the law, but also so that they can build the status and identity of their product or service, and themselves as it’s originator and leader.
The second is time to think – for parent founders this often means staying up in to the small hours or hiding in the loo for 5 minutes peace! But actually we all know that structured time to be creative and strategic is critical to our success – In our programmes we use Nancy Kline’s work on The Thinking Environment to generate really powerful independent thought and actions that founders actually take away and do.
The third is having a business planning process that actually feels relevant and do-able. The Lean Canvas is an incredibly powerful tool that encapsulates both the “gift” of the product or service, along with the problems and “jobs” that drive customers’ decisions. But over many years of trying to maintain the discipline of using it myself and watching others do the same, I believe it needs to follow another step which is based on positivity, a recognition of experience and skills, and holds tight to the dreams and visions which are essential for success long term. This is where Appreciative Inquiry can provide some brilliant solutions. It’s discovery and dream phases keep cynicism and self doubt at bay, anchoring the founder in what they do, and can do, best. It’s design phase quickly generates short term wins which can get founders over the perfection paralysis (and generate much needed revenue) and clarifies the major projects which will require an investment of time and a more rigorous business planning process (including facing up to the need to stop, pivot or pause in some cases). It’s a huge amount of fun to do – especially in the company of your team, or other founders facing similar challenges and opportunities. So when there are more difficult decisions to be made, they can be taken from a position of strength and optimism. Here it is in practice at some of our start up programmes over the years, and as beautifully illustrated by Paula Hansen, Chart Magic