By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
When an entrepreneur starts a company, he or she, by necessity, wears all the hats. From technology to business development, to finance and sales, in the early days of every startup, the founder must do it all.
Then, as the startup launches successful products, adds customers, and makes critical hires, the demands on the company founder change.
The skill set that it takes to scale a business is very different from the skill set that it took the start the company and gain initial customer acceptance.
Starting up, the entrepreneur is all about communicating a vision for the company, a passion for the technology, and gaining enough market acceptance to get the startup off the ground. Successful entrepreneurs who know what they don’t know (or figure it out very quickly), turn to mentors, advisers, other entrepreneurs. Here in Oklahoma, they come to the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology or to i2E to get support.
Many entrepreneurs find it relatively easy in the first days and months of a startup to acknowledge and accept help. The corporate community, cashed-out entrepreneurs, and expert service providers are eager to help give entrepreneurs a boost.
Equity capital investment introduces an even broader cadre of expertise. Angels investors, such as the members of SeedStep Angels, are a key source of not only capital, but they also bring networking and industry connections in their roles as advisers or members of a startup’s board.
But once a business moves successfully past proof of concept into outside investment and a board of directors, the demands of leadership for the young company change. Every company needs the right leadership at the right time, and that’s doubly true for the startup that has started to grow.
In the beginning, the entrepreneur’s gaps in skills were functional — sales and marketing, finance, or technical talent. As the startup moves to scaling the company, it becomes more about structure and systems. The company risk profile changes from market acceptance to market execution.
Coachable entrepreneurs have a leg up. These are the founders who recognized from the beginning where their strengths were and where they needed to supplement their own talents. The wise entrepreneurs don’t try to hold on forever. They move to the role of a majority stockholder or board chair. They work with their boards to bring in experienced leaders who know how to lead a transition from start up to scale.
They recognize that the success of their vision is no longer about selling the dream; it’s about executing on the opportunity.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.