Today, the pace of technological change and the stress this reality puts on the #startupecosystem is unprecedented. External demands created by a dynamic business environment force inventors to fine tune their technology from idea to product- market fit using the #commercialization process instead of their laboratories. As a result, the founder CEO can feel like the #ChiefEverythingOfficer as she tries to recruit and onboard people who have the technical skills combined with the #leadership abilities needed to scale the company effectively.
Within this environment, a founder’s ability to understand and acknowledge that their organization’s #decisionmakingidentity evolves as the company grows is crucial to market success. Broadly speaking, founders begin their journeys in a reactive state as they search for a business model that works for their technology. With time and experience, these founders eventually grow their capacity and learn to delegate tasks appropriately while guiding the long-term direction of the organization.
There are several steps in the evolution from reactive to proactive, but these decision-making identities, as outlined below, map closely with the talents required to conquer each commercial stage. Using these identities as a guide, founders can identify and understand where they are in their growth trajectory and what they need to do next to evolve themselves and their organizations.
Identifying Target Markets / Reactive Decision Making
A typical startup company trying to pinpoint its target market does not have enough employees available to handle all the tasks coming its way and still maintain a customer focus. Staff operates with an “all hands on deck” mentality to solve the crisis of the moment. The CEO retains most of the decision-making power, based on information that aligns with his hypotheses. Teams are highly motivated by the company's #mission, #vision, and #values as they work to prototype the product and develop a commercial roadmap based on early customer discovery. This stage often feels like the Wild West!
Validating The Business Model / Tactical Decision Making
As the startup seeks evidence that its product or service solves a specific industry problem, the team starts to sort itself based on areas of expertise. Some employees will gravitate toward a market focus and some toward a technology focus. Founders begin to delegate but focus on shedding those tasks they dislike or lack the expertise to handle themselves. Founders begin to formulate strategies to handle routine issues to give the staff the bandwidth for proactivity.
Leveraging Early Adopters / Coordinated Decision Making
Early adopters allow founders to finally get a peek into the financial rewards of their technology as initial or pilot sales suggest a successful commercial impact. At this point, a single member of the founding team typically assumes the role of CEO, demonstrating her interest in growing her executive capacity and leading the team toward her vision. Skilled professionals, motivated by the company’s mission, vision, and values begin to fill key functional areas within the company. These professionals coordinate leadership and management responsibilities internally and involve customer decision-makers to further refine the technology to meet market needs.
Recognizing Product Market Fit / Integrated Decision Making
Early commercial sales, strong customer feedback, and an internal mechanism to share and act on that feedback will signal that the company has achieved product market fit. To accomplish this phase, the CEO will fill the C-suite with experienced executives who help align business practices and continue to refine mission, vision, and values. The C-suite also helps the CEO develop strategic plans with long-term goals, measurable objectives, and scheduled review cycles. Internal teams lean into the company’s brand identity and the product’s value proposition to move commercialization beyond early adopters and gain customer referrals in the target market.
Preparing to Scale / Strategic Decision Making
A CEO knows her company is ready to scale when its functional areas operate as a synchronized gear system, rather than as individual cogs in one messy gear. C-suite executives are aligned with mission, vision, and values and are committed to staying on board as the company scales. The product, now in full-scale production, appeals to a broad swath of the target market. Backed by aligned, accountable company teams, the CEO demonstrates executive presence and effective decision making. Functional area personnel understand their roles in delivering on the value proposition and are empowered to make decisions.
Founders will likely find it difficult to recognize and effectively react to the many inflection points along the commercialization journey. The perfect personnel don’t magically appear at a founder’s doorstep and Founders often need help mastering all of the leadership and business skills required for success. Until leadership skills and commercial processes are fully developed, a founder CEO will benefit from external experts who can provide a holistic assessment of their organization’s leadership readiness and its ability to fulfill customer needs at every touchpoint.