The VPM Blog

X + Y = Startup

Posted by Don Crow on May 22, 2012 4:00:52 AM

I’m just a little outside the typical age of a social networking + mobile app startup founder. My stats put me squarely in the Gen X group and yet the remainder of our office and interns fall solidly within the Millennials or Gen Y group.

The Startup Genome Project put the Founder’s age at 33.5.

The average age in our office is 25!

What’s interesting to me are the number of startups founded by Gen Y’ers who go hire Gen X’ers once they realize the need for business acumen and Wall Street savvy outweighs their capacity and current run rate. Mark Zuckerburg hiring Sheryl Sandburg is perhaps the most high profile case.

I’m not certain I qualify as Wall Street savvy, although I do read the Journal and stay at a Holiday Inn Express on occasion.

The day to day operations side coupled with the large number of interns we work with here has put a premium on Leadership. Not just the ability to task-master, keep focused and deliver – but also the never ending questions that come with teaching, coaching and mentoring young adults grappling with entering the work force.

This is where I think I have something else to add to the equation: Leadership lessons collected via the US Army, AOL and a myriad other set of circumstances which helped mold me into the steely eyed Founder I am today. [NOTE: Keep your laughter in check please]

One of the things every business, and the US Army, loves are industry and business specific acronyms. One of my favorites from the Army was simply, “TIPS: Talk, Inform, Predictable, Sensitive.” I’ve adapted it to my current environment and sharing it here:

T is for Talk. So much of today’s world runs counter to this concept: “listen more than you talk,” “respect the 80/20 ratio of listen to talk,” and you’ve probably heard others. What I’m saying is take the time to Talk with, not to your employees. One-on-One and in a comfortable environment. Take them to lunch, for coffee, a drink – whatever is genuine to you. Ask questions – the tough ones like, “What’s it like working here?” “Do you feel your contributions matter?” “What are we getting wrong?” “What is the one thing you’d change about week one here?” You get the point.

This is important… keep asking questions. Take mental notes – written ones will come across as too formal (and the exercise will improve your listening skills).

Now, it is your turn to Talk. Respond to the questions with, “Do you know why I (we) made the decision to do ____ for the business?” Talk to them about the reasons why, the decision making process and what the long term vision is which directs some of the day to day workflow. Educate them on the business and your leadership philosophy, one on one. They will leave and tell others. Your talk with one will help evangelize the purpose and vision of what you’re trying to achieve at your own organization.

So, by talking to one employee at a time, you talk to the entire organization.

Keep it real – no email, tweets, etc. It’s fine to email or facebook or DM (Twitter) or even text message the invitation, although I still prefer the personal, “Hey what are you doing tomorrow for lunch? Will you have lunch with me so we can chat?” approach.

Keep it non-threatening and without fear of reprisal or flying off the handle. Nothing will destroy the communication ecosystem faster than the perception that negative consequences come from your “Talks.”

Be yourself. Always. And watch the ego – be prepared for a healthy dose of hearing that what you’re doing isn’t working.

That’s TIPS for this week. Watch next week for “I is for Inform.”

Article by: Don Crow || Chief Imagineer & Founder ||

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