By Glenn Pearson  |  January 19, 2017

Many start-ups are spawned by a visionary leader who either identifies a problem and develops a creative solution or adapts an existing technology in a novel way.  A typical new-company trajectory is that, after months or years of hard work, it achieves enough success to expand and grow rapidly, sometimes explosively.  Unfortunately, the skillsets needed to stand up a new, creative company and to run a larger organization differ.

An all-too-common pattern of early stage companies is that, although the founder can successfully bring a product to market, he or she may fail to recognize their managerial limitations.  Over time, internal operational stress levels increase, often reaching a boiling point.  At that juncture, investors often intervene to encourage the founder to “exit.”  Either that or the company dies a slow and painful death.

Recently, I was talking with my friend Alan Urech who for years has evaluated and worked with hundreds of startups seeking funding.  He offered some fascinating observations about what every newer company needs.  (Thanks, Alan, for your editorial contribution to this blog post.)

Alan said he looks for four skill sets in any company:

  • The entrepreneur – This person typically focuses on both the task at hand (developing the product) and managing the startup.  This includes motivating the people necessary to reach launch.
  • The CFO/finance person – CFOs are typically realists who constantly keep the task in mind and the paperwork signed.
  • The chief sales leader – By definition, successful sales executives are relationship/people-oriented “schmoozers” who remind the organization that they are nothing without customers.
  • The peacemaker – Peacemakers don’t exclusively focus on either the task or the people but instead recognize the need to keep everything in balance so the company doesn’t spin out of control.  The peacemaker can fill any role on the organizational chart.

The CFO and sales leader sometimes clash because they focus in somewhat opposite directions, which is good for the organization.  A good entrepreneur manages that relationship.  The entrepreneur and the peacemaker are sometimes at odds because the entrepreneur always wants change, while the pacemaker wants things to be stable and in balance.

The need for first three positions are pretty obvious, but I had never thought about needing the peacemaker.  What a great insight!  This may be the most difficult of all roles, and that person’s ability to keep everything in check depends on that person’s organizational “clout” within the company and, probably more importantly, their interpersonal skills.

Potential investors always consider a company’s leadership team as part of their due diligence process, typically focusing only on their backgrounds, credentials and track records.  Alan’s observation about looking for the peacemaker brings in a whole new dimension.

Although Alan addressed only newer companies, I think every organization would do well to make sure it has all these critical bases covered.  Plus, I should consider where I fit in this equation and the extent to which any stress points I have with others may be due to different orientations.