Find the Critics

So we think you’re pretty awesome. We think the companies you’re forming and the things you’re creating are inspiring. We want to be your biggest cheerleader and help you along your entrepreneurial journey. Which is why we also want to tell you how important it is to have critics.

Now, we know, you’re probably thinking we’ve gone off our rockers. We promise that we haven’t (okay, we can’t 100% guarantee that). But hear us out. If you’re always surrounded by “yes” people, you never have the chance to grow into something even greater.

Starting a company is hard work and it takes a lot of courage and a lot of caffeinated beverages. So it’s important to have people to encourage you, to lift you up and to help you see your dream is indeed reachable. It’s also important to have people who challenge you to think differently and to question your goals and plans so they can become stronger and more solidified. “Pure optimism is poison, and the most savvy leaders know it. By purpose or by chance, the best management teams … challenge each other daily, the best board members couple every plaudit with a probe and the best investors want to hear about the bad even more than the good” (source).

This is why we encourage you (and sometimes harp on you) about having a trusted business advisor in your entrepreneurial journey. In case you need a refresher, look here and here. A trusted business advisor should be able to have a strategic conversation with you, to give you constructive feedback on your goals and strategies. This will further bolster your business. After all, who wants to go to market only to realize there was a competitor doing that exact thing already? Or find out there was a fatal flaw in your design? Or that there’s no market for the product in the geography you’re trying to sell in? These are things you may not be able to see yourself.

So what do we mean by a trusted business advisor? Well, a business can have any number of them. Here are just a few:

  • CFO – the strategic numbers person who helps you not only manage your current business finances, but also think through how to reach the next level in your business (or scale back when needed). This person is essential, even for small organizations because they help you think through more than just your current financial state. Good news for you … if you can’t afford to hire this person full time, you can outsource it.
  • Investors – these outside sources aren’t in the day-to-day of your business. So they can see bigger pictures (especially because it’s their money that’s helping you). Make sure they’re not just giving you resources, but also input and constructive criticism.
  • Employees – even as a startup, it’s important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, who can bring up new ideas and challenge your thinking. Hire wisely and look for people with different strengths than you. Then, open the lines of communication so people feel comfortable coming forward with challenges to the current structure and ideas for change.
  • Accountants, bankers, financial advisors – also known as your favorite people. In case you hadn’t picked up on it, we really really don’t think it’s a good idea for you to just go find the cheapest option. Rather, find the person who you can have a relationship with, who you can ask questions (and can understand their answers) and who will give you constructive feedback and honest candor.

Starting your own company, and growing it for that matter, is tough. It takes a lot of encouragement. It also takes open communication and the ability to give constructive feedback, to challenge and to think differently about how things are done. In order to do this, you have to surround yourself with more than just the “yes” people. Surround yourself with advisors (both internally and externally) whose end game is to make your organization better, not just boost your confidence.

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