“You Need to Let Go” Is Pretty Bad Advice

Not letting go is not about ego, but rather about the company’s vision, writes serial entrepreneur Iris Shoor

Iris Shoor 10:1917.08.18
The organizational culture of the startup world operates under pretty explicit rules. One of the most often preached rules is “you need to learn how to let go.”


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Not letting go is normally seen as an indication for an inflated ego as well as an inability to trust others and as almost petty meddling with insignificant details. I was always finding myself caught in the tension between making sure that everything fits perfectly within the company’s vision and trying to let go. In the past couple of months, I decided to stop doing that and went back to a hands-on approach. I am back at designing the product, running the marketing, and mostly allowing myself to be more “petty” and to not let anything that does not feel right for the company slide.


Entrepreneur Iris Shoor. Photo: PR Entrepreneur Iris Shoor. Photo: PR


We are all struggling with lack of time. Every CEO at a startup company is left at any given moment with way too many things to do, usually an almost endless list of truly important tasks. Actually, that is also true for every other manager and employee at a startup. When there is a section of the company that functions wonderfully without me, it frees a significant amount of my time, allowing me to focus on other important issues, and I really do appreciate that.


However, I think that the basic premise about letting go is wrong. It assumes that if you choose to be engaged, that means you do not trust others enough. But, as founding CEO, my perspective is completely different  and no one else has the accurate vision of how all the parts of the puzzle should fit together. There is a profound difference between good work and work that is precisely right for the company at a specific moment.


Ever wondered why it is so crucial to keep the original entrepreneurs on board? Why is it difficult to replace the entrepreneur with an outside CEO when the company is in its early stages? Why no investor invests solely in the idea itself but mostly in who is going to bring it to life? The essence of a Startup (mainly during its early stages) is to take a vision which exists only in the mind of one person and to turn it into reality. It is not an easy task to accomplish when the vision is still kind of blurry, full of holes, and is constantly changing. I feel that going into details like the accuracy of texts, the function of every part of the product, and questions such as when a particular bug is going to be fixed, is something I do not because I am better than others, but, because my role is to connect all the dots in order to create the precise experience that I want our users to have. An experience that is comprised of so many different components, that nobody else in the company (but me) gets to see.


There were times when I would admit to having slight disrespect towards managers who insisted on going into every tiny detail. Now, I realize that it is no coincidence that some of the most admired CEOs were of that sort, that it is impossible to build a powerful and innovative vision without some very tight hands-on management.


Of course, that does not mean that I am involved in every single aspect of my startup Oribi Systems Ltd. There are sections working just fine without my involvement, that I feel are established and in sync with the vision enough for me to not be needed there. There are also areas not as significant to the overall vision, in which I am not as essential.


The main reason that, for a long time, I was trying to let go was the common perception that this is the best way to manage and to allow people to grow and flourish. During the past few years, I got to interview hundreds of candidates. One of the main topics we got to discuss was their previous managers. The ones who were appreciated the most were not the letting go type but, rather, those who were more strict and had a particular way of doing things. To get along with such a manager demands great trust in them and the vision they are constructing. A manager that is very much involved in the small details could be considered the best thing that happened to someone, but, to the same extent, be the complete opposite for another. Not letting go does not in any way mean that the employees do not get any independence. On the contrary, precisely because I now allow myself to have a zero tolerance policy for anything that does not match the vision, the team has a much better understanding of the direction we are taking. In the past three months since I stopped letting go, a large share of the new features and decisions regarding the company’s culture came from the team, not from me.


We all have areas of expertise. Almost always, they would also be the ones providing us with the greatest satisfaction. For me, that would be marketing, the product’s road-map, and finances. Usually, it is hard to give up on what we feel we excel at. A pattern that I saw many managers taking was the unhealthy attachment to a loved section and the refusal to pass it on to someone else. This is a completely different kind of letting go than the one I was discussing in the post so far. That is, not letting go due to a fear of leaving the comfort zone or of someone else taking your place. If one of my team members is able to comprehend completely a certain part of the vision, I let that part go. Even if it happens to be what I love doing the most.
The second occasion when you should let go would be prioritizing. I believe that the construction of a mind-blowing product depends on all of the tiny details combined . In the early stages, there is hardly anything that is insignificant. But, some parts are more crucial than others. I wrote quite a bit about focus in the past. The magic of the Startup is creating an entire universe using only a small team. At any given moment I and, of course, the team as well, can identify what matters most. There are features more important than others, there are times in which marketing is the number one priority and ones in which it drags behind, there are bugs that I must thoroughly investigate and ones I am not even aware of.


So, in the past few months, I am learning how to be “petty” and to not feel guilty about it, how to guide the team about the best way to connect all the dots, to paint the exact image of the vision that I have in my mind.


A version of this article was originally published on Shoor’s blog .


Iris Shoor is a serial entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Tel Aviv-based analytics startup Oribi.
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