My Biggest Growth Lesson So Far As A Startup CEO

It’s crazy how fast time flies by. My last column about Celebrating Your Successes… wow that column isn’t more true than it is today. Look back at those “successes” you had recently in your company and in your family life and celebrate those before you head into the next season.

As my friend and mentor Seth always reminds me, (the dude actually wrote a book on the subject – be sure to check that out!) gratitude is the key for us ambitious types to continually remind us that life is about the journey… not those goals (that always seem to move once you hit them).

The past several months have been amazing in many ways. Business has grown past a really important milestone and goal we set for ourselves. Profits right on target with our estimates. Our customers are doing amazing things with our software and getting results that no other company in our industry can touch. And our team here at Carrot is growing. We just added a new Design Integrator to our team and are about to bring on board a Client Development Specialist in less than 2 weeks.

Things are great.

But also in these last several months I’ve been going through one of the biggest learning curves I’ve ever had to go through as a startup CEO.

You see, in my previous companies we were always really lean. Just a few people tops. So I was used to doing a lot of the day to day things in the company. Marketing, helping with customer support when needed, higher level admin stuff my assistant couldn’t handle, etc.

And I’ve been doing those things with Carrot as well. But recently as we grew well past the million dollar per year run rate, I a noticed momentum shift on the near horizon. And not in a good way.

It was a silent shift in the works. I don’t think the rest of the team felt it. But I did.

As revenues and customer counts were climbing… and customer satisfaction was at all-time highs as well… behind the scenes I was seeing something that a lot of growing startups experience.

Bottlenecks and backlog.

We use a project management software that tracks our projects, tasks, and priorities. A red date means the project is past due. A green date means you’ve still got time.

¾ of the projects I had a role in were red.

And it wasn’t because the other team members weren’t doing their job.

They were doing great.

It was because I had placed myself in the middle of the process, kind of like the hub on a bike wheel, on so many things.

I’d “delegate” something out 90% of the way, only to require a small part of the project to come back to me before it was launched. And that 10% I “had” to do held the whole project for everyone because I was in the middle of 10-15 projects at once.

I was a bottleneck preventing the rest of my team from getting things done. I was the cause of that momentum shift I felt brewing.

So we dove in and took action. I empowered my team members to take on more responsibility, remove me from the processes that I wasn’t critical in, and just trust them to put out high quality work. And they did.

Then we beefed up our “key performance indicators” so I could track overall trends on each department on a weekly basis rather than me be in the weeds on everything every day.

Last, I’ve had to really rethink my role in my company.

And it’s a liberating but weird feeling.

I’m realizing that anything I do that is not in my unique ability, the thing I’m great at and love to do, I’m holding back part of the company. So we’re in team building mode right now.

We’ll add more team members to Carrot, our local software startup before the end of the year. That’ll push our head count to over double digits for the first time and help us grow our revenue a lot faster, and help us cement ourselves as the leader in this small corner of a large industry we’re going after.

So, if you find your own company losing momentum… even if the numbers don’t show it but you feel it… look at your projects and “to-do’s” and find the bottlenecks. Work through those, and remove yourself as the CEO from as many of the things you’re currently doing as possible.

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