Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Posted by JumpStart Team
“You get two great tastes in one candy bar.”
—Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups advertisement
The best entrepreneur leaders of high growth companies that I have seen are like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: they combine two great skills in one CEO. First, they lead the rapid completion of significant, value-creating milestones (the peanut butter). And second, they communicate consistently and well with their stakeholders (the chocolate).
Great entrepreneurs make this combination look effortless, but it isn’t. The peanut butter isn’t about just trying to complete milestones, but it’s leading the completion of milestones, and creating a sense of urgency (“rapid completion”) to complete them quickly. What’s more, it’s not just any milestones – it’s “significant, value-creating milestones” - ensuring that they keep the daily, weekly, and monthly focus of the company on key value-creating milestones, whether that’s developing a working prototype, forging key service delivery partnerships, raising capital, getting beta customers, creating a Board of Directors, etc.
The chocolate – communicating consistently and well with their stakeholders – also seems pretty obvious since entrepreneurs are total evangelists. But what makes a great entrepreneur is that that in addition to communicating with their early adopter stakeholders, they communicate with a much broader “market,” including their shareholders, competitors, media, and others. And they do the communicating constantly, consistently, good news or bad news, always having a conversation with the broader market on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. They communicate by e-mail and by phone, in person and video conference. They just pick up the phone and call board members, competitors, and others. And they do it in a way that balances passion and objectivity, frustration and patience, upbeat optimism and a deep understanding of stark reality and the bare facts.
I think tons of entrepreneurs are actually doing an amazing job leading the rapid completion of significant value-creating milestones. But they get roundly hammered for their communications skills. This bums me out, because I think they are the very well intentioned but misunderstood. The good news is that the pervasive misunderstanding is pretty much of their own doing, and they can fix it by communicating more frequently and better. Then there are the entrepreneurs who communicate as frequently and smoothly as if they were running a (good) political campaign, but underneath the fabulous communicator façade, there ain’t a whole lot of key milestone completion going on. These entrepreneurs can be dangerous – the world gets so caught up in their great communicating that it forgets that there isn’t actually any tangible evidence of progress.
So, on their own, either of these characteristics is remarkable – but as I’ve looked around and tried to figure out what really differentiates the best from the better from the good, it seems to me that most (there are exceptions; there are always exceptions) enduringly great entrepreneurs combine the two. (Out with "Level 5 Leadership" and in with Reese's....)
Anyhow, give me some good insights on this enormous topic, won't you please - a bag of Reese's has your name on it.
Becca Braun is a past president of JumpStart Ventures. She founded and led a number of early-stage companies and organizations, as well as worked as a private equity investor and management consultant. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her BA in Linguistics from Harvard University. She is keenly interested in the intersection of wealth creation and broad-based regional economic growth.