What to expect when you’re expecting: The CEO edition
Flying Pigs CEO Shaul Olmert compares doing a product version update to visiting the doctor to see your baby’s ultrasound
Aside from running a startup, I also have three children. Raising kids is a good lesson in patience. Now that they are a bit older (aged 10-17) raising children is a pleasure (most of the time), but getting there took some fortitude. It began during the pregnancies, and the anticipation for them being born. Though two of them were considerate enough to emerge into the world a month earlier than their due date, maybe because they sensed my impatience, I was still forced to wait anxiously for many months that were filled with uncertainty and a sense of having very little control, in which I was a helpless bystander.
These descriptions also apply to my current experience as the CEO of a startup whose first product is still in the gestational stage. We have decided what the first version of the product will entail, we’ve set schedules and tasks, and now, while the rest of the ‘flying pigs’ are busy designing, writing code, and defining product features, I am mostly left waiting in anticipation. During this time, a bunch of feelings are bubbling up inside of me. Excitement — fantasizing about how everything will look wonderful, function perfectly, and result in hordes of people using the product — but mostly fears and anxieties. Fears that maybe we missed out on the characteristics, that maybe we’re advancing too slowly, that perhaps the market has changed, that the progress it feels like we’re making doesn’t reflect our true progress, etcetera. Occasionally the team carries out a version update, which means taking all the features that have been developed and packaging them in a way that allows us to run our product and see where we are in terms of progress. It is a lot like visiting the gynecologist for an ultrasound during pregnancy. It looks like the fetus is complete, growing, and developing according to plan, but at the same time, it’s no more than a weird and slightly shapeless mass that requires a lot of imagination to envision in its final version.
The managerial challenge at this stage is divided into three parts. The first is keeping your finger on the pulse of developments and remaining highly aware of everything that takes place in processes, even if you are not that involved in them. There are a range of managerial tools to do that with, from daily update meetings to assignment tracking software, feedback from team members, and of course occasional version testing. The second part is listening not only to the words being said but also to their ‘tune.’ Everything may be advancing precisely according to plan (not really, no startup has ever managed to stick to its original timetable, but for argument’s sake, let’s say it is), but if you have your ear to the ground, you can sense where things are creaking, what works perfectly and what requires fixing or rethinking. It’s the manager’s role to identify the strengths and weaknesses beyond what’s directly reported by the team.
In recent months, the global technology market has, alongside the difficulties caused by the global economic crisis and the forced shift in consumer behavior, experienced expedited growth. Public companies’ valuations have skyrocketed, the IPO market has awakened from a long period of stagnation and as a result, we are also being bombarded with news of huge financing rounds in the private sector and a tidal wave of new projects. All this constitutes noise that can heavily impact the day-to-day operation of your company. Decisions having to do with raising capital, exit plans, valuations, or new growth areas, are heavily impacted by the signals that our surroundings communicate. After every announcement of an Israeli company going public, raising money, or merging with another company (which is of course positive in its own right), my instinct is to find an opportunity for us to follow suit. On one hand, when you see the market waking up it is appropriate to try to ride the wave, raise more money and grow, but on the other, it is important to be cautious and try to anticipate how much of it is hype and how much is real. This is precisely where I, as a manager, need to step in and differentiate between the noise that is relevant and that which should be ignored. It is very tempting to make decisions because it gives you a direction to head in and the vibe of taking initiative, but like when it comes to a pregnancy, sometimes you just need to let things progress naturally. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your business, the same as for your children, is just be patient.
Shaul Olmert is a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder and CEO of mobile app developer Piggy. He formerly founded interactive content company Playbuzz Ltd. You can find his previous columns here