Building a company over the last 12 years has unearthed a lot of lessons for me that I hope to share with you over the course of a blog series about building a great company.
Building a Great Company
When building a great company, what do you do first? Do you focus on creating a great product (or service) or do you focus on hiring great people? It can be a chicken and egg problem because people want to work for a company that has a great product and future, but a great product takes great people to build. In one of my earlier blogs "Having a great product helps", I wrote about one of our customers who has built a great business around a great product. This worked for him, but there is another way to build a great business.
In my mind there is a clear path, but it may be worthwhile to break it down a little further. Jim Collins, author of the timeless book Good to Great, writes about laying the path to greatness when discussing the power and effectiveness of what he called Level 5 Leaders. Very simply he stated, "First Who, Then What". Get the right people first and they will help you build a far better business collectively than you could do on your own. Those A+ players will engage in vigorous debate. While there may be difficult challenges, in the end if everyone is aligned on the same goal and vision, a superior service (or product) will emerge.
So, how do you get those great people to join you before your company becomes world class? It is not easy, but it does have to start with a visionary concept and demonstrated leadership that people want to follow. You see this is in the startup world all the time. Nobody knew that they needed an intelligent thermostat until Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers formed Nest Labs. It just takes someone to say, “there is a need for a better service, here is what we are going to do..now let's hire great people to make it happen.”
A company with a single genius surrounded by "yes people" will ultimately fail (or at least not perform as well) and definitely won’t scale. Ultimately, it is that visionary's job to get the right people around them and create an environment that is a meritocracy where the best idea wins instead of succumbing to the HiPPO Effect.
The way to do this is to hire great people first. Then rally them around the vision and a great service (or product) will emerge. Then you have yourself the start to a great company.