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Mark Endras.
Mark Endras.

LEADERSHIP LAB

How to overcome growing pains and raise a healthy startup Add to ...

Mark Endras is the co-founder and CEO of TradeRev.

When you first start a company, you think it’s the greatest thing in the whole world. You want it to succeed so badly, you’d sacrifice just about anything for it.

In this way, raising a startup is a lot like raising a child. As a father of three kids myself, I know there’s no right or wrong way to do it, and no advice can guarantee your kid’s success. But there are steps you can take to overcome early growing pains and give your startup a fighting chance in a competitive, unforgiving world.

Choose the right partner

We’ve all heard opposites attract and this is certainly true when starting a business – you don’t want a partner who’s exactly like you. You want someone who complements you and brings a different skill set to the table. You also want a partner who’s brave, willing to take chances and ready to risk it all, someone who understands the massive time commitment that’s required to bring a company into the world. Simply put, if your partner doesn’t share your passion, the partnership will never last.

Trust and communication are also two tenets of any successful relationship. You and your partner must have each other’s backs, and you can’t shy away from those tough conversations that require absolute honesty. Developing a startup isn’t all fun and games. You need somebody you can work through the hard truths with and who is in it for the long haul.

Survive the early stages

For startups, releasing an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a lot like that first day of kindergarten. It’s when the learning process really begins. Sure, your product still has a lot of growing up to do and you’re going to make your fair share of mistakes, but in these developmental stages you can’t worry if your baby has social skills. You just need it to have motor skills.

Here at TradeRev, we signed up our first customers only to realize we didn’t have a billing system in place. Then we crashed while launching the second version of our app. And, of course, we acquired a whole lot of tech debt. But that’s okay. When you run fast, you break stuff. You need to keep pushing forward because the only way you can grow is through volume. Develop your user base and don’t look back.

Stay focused through the awkward years

Your child is growing up fast – you have more departments (dev teams, support teams, sales teams), more customers, more users, more sales, more success. But it’s also a confusing time. Your product is not yet fully formed and others are filling your head with new ideas.

For example, years ago a potential investor said to me, “We love your real-time car auction technology and we think it would be perfect in the fish market.”

This is where you have to be careful not to veer off course. Know who you are and stay true to what you originally set out to accomplish. Just as it’s vital to block out the “bad influences” outside your company, you also need to create the right social circles within your business. When you’re a busy startup, your only concern is whether the person can do the job or not, so you often end up hiring for specific skills. However, at this stage, the right personalities and the right fit are every bit as important for your company’s development. Think about the culture and values you’re trying to instill, and hire good people who can take your business in the right direction.

You also need to stay focused when clones and copycats start to imitate your product, and even add features that put pressure on you to do the same. Don’t do something rash. Imitation isn’t only the sincerest form of flattery, it proves your business model is working.

And, finally, if you’re lucky enough to get that first million-dollar cheque from an angel investor, don’t be the university freshman who burns through their parents’ cash before the first semester is finished. Decide the most effective use of that money, double down on what you do best and always stay true to your business goals.

Take that next step

Upon graduating university, many kids face the same question – what now?

The same goes for startups when it comes time to choose a business partner. Do you go private money, do you go public money, or do you just keep going and try to do it on your own?

And the decisions only get harder from there. As in life, being a grown-up only seems to bring more uncertainty and sharper turning points. But as a leader, this is where you need to take a step back. If your company is ever going to make it in the real world, you have to learn to let go.

Trust that you’ve built a solid infrastructure, hired the right people and instilled the proper values. Trust that you’ve created a business that’s capable of both standing on its own and making a true difference. Raising a startup will no doubt be the most challenging thing you’ve ever done in your life – but trust me when I say it’s also going to be the most rewarding.

Executives and human-resources experts share their views in the ongoing Leadership Lab series. Find stories at tgam.ca/careers here and follow us @Globe_Careers.

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