One of the hardest things for founders to overcome is the fact that they run out of resources. They run out of runway. They run out of cash. They run out of time. They run out of people.
At all times, it’s all about making trade-offs, and some of these trade-offs can be some of the hardest, most difficult things that a founder has to encounter.
Being a founder can be one of the most challenging—yet transformational—experiences someone can go through. Yung Wu, CEO of MaRS Discovery District, offers his advice when it comes to leading a fast-growth company.
Do you have any tips for founders leading fast growth companies?
Leading a fast growth company, it is one of the harshest and most unforgiving, and yet most transformational experiences that one can go through. The transformational part I think is where the key really is. You have to be a learning machine, and you can’t be married to, or you can’t be wedded to the things that you did in the past that got you to this stage, because that’s gonna kill you at the next stage. In my experience anyway, I’ve now built six different companies, and every single one of them turned out to be different at the end than what it started out to be. So, I think it’s critical for leaders to actually have the mentality that they are always learning, they are always transforming themselves, and they’re always looking to what’s coming up next.
Another example might be when you get past the seed stage, and now you’re looking into growth stage, well, guess what? It’s no longer about product market fit or even installing sufficient telemetry so that you can actually manage your close friends and family – group of seven people. Suddenly you’re managing people that have to manage other people. And it’s no longer like flying a Piper Cub. You now have instrumentation, you have to be able to throttle this thing up and down, you have a team, you have to manage a team that’s managing a team. So, management systems, measurement systems, processes, organization, these all start to matter if you are actually gonna be able to start to scale something that now has product and market fit.
And by the way, by this time, you’ve probably become one out of, I’m gonna say, one out of 250 companies by now. If you wanna get to the next stage of being one in 1,500 companies, which are companies that are posed for global growth, now you start caring about things like capital efficiency. You care about leadership development. You care about portfolio management. You care about boards and shareholders and stakeholders.
You can see that at every single one of these stages, it is critical for the founder and the team to be able to transform themselves, to understand that this set of new requirements is attached to this new phase of development and growth.
Being a founder can be lonely sometimes. What are sources founders turn to for advice?
Being a founder is by definition a lonely process. It is also one of the harshest and most unforgiving and most transformative experiences that one can go through. Only other founders actually get what it means to be a founder. And I think there are times when you have to have other founders that can give you their points of view, not judge you for it, but be there to actually share their experiences, help you through to get to your own answers, and be completely empathetic to the journey that you’re going through. It is harsh, it is unforgiving, and those that make it through inevitably lean on other founders to make it happen.
So, that’s where I would start first and foremost – develop a really tight trusted group under a cone of silence where you can share everything. Because building a company isn’t just a thing you do on the side of your desk. It becomes your life. And it sucks in everything to do with your life. You don’t get to do it as a part time thing. As soon as you take your first dime from the outside, you now have responsibilities, you now have outside accountabilities, you’ve got people depending on you, your employees, your customers, your family. And at times it can feel like you’re running through a minefield with a couple of cartons of eggs in each hand and you’re trying to get to the finish line without breaking any eggs. It is terrifying. And nobody else actually understands that except for other founders.