For entrepreneurs, the benefits of slowing down

After several heady months for startups, Jeffrey Bussgang offers radical advice for founders this summer: just chill

Published: Aug 20, 2021 10:21:55 AM IST
Updated: Aug 20, 2021 10:44:54 AM IST

For entrepreneurs, the benefits of slowing downWhen running a fast-growing company, with all the execution demands and details involved, it is hard to take the time to be creative
Image: Shutterstock

A few months ago, I wrote about the ridiculous increase in velocity that we are seeing in the venture capital market in my post, Velocity and Venture Capital: 11. Now that summer is upon us, I want to reflect on the subtle value of slowing down, particularly from the standpoint of an entrepreneur.

Summer has always been a time to take a breath and slow down. Now that the United States is entering a post-pandemic phase, we have yet another reason to take things a bit slower and stop obsessing about efficiency and speed. One of my more popular tweets during the last year was:

I was reminded of the value of slowing down during the last few days by one of my founders who is in the midst of closing a massive financing at a "unicorn" valuation. The company is on a tear, having grown revenue by 30 times, year over year.

In a moment of candor, he confided to me, "I hope the new investors will let me slow down. We need to make sure we are building for scale and to do that, I need to be more deliberate in our growth." Like the tortoise in the famous Aesop's fable, sometimes we need to proceed slowly and steadily to win the race.

Make the effort to meet up face to face, spend unscheduled long stretches of time, and (gasp) just hang out.

Here are a few of the benefits of slowing down, and where entrepreneurs may want to focus their energies this summer:

1. Solidify your scalable team
CEO coach Marshall Goldsmith has a brilliant book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, about successful executives hitting points of friction as they grow, requiring changes in their behavior in order to continue to succeed. I often coach my entrepreneurs to assess their teams with a similar lens. The team that got you here may not be the team that will get you there.

Take the time to consider team additions, upgrades, and perhaps coaching or facilitation to ensure you have the right aligned senior team that is ready, willing, and able to scale to the next level.

2. Think different

When you're running a fast-growing company, with all the execution demands and details involved, it is hard to take the time to be creative. Take the time this summer to do some offsites (yes, in person!) and brainstorm with your teams regarding the nonlinear growth opportunities that might be available to you. Consider transformative acquisitions, partnerships, new product launches, or international expansion in ways you might not have had the time and space to think through.

3. Pay down your organizational debt
Every fast-growing startup incurs debt along the way. Those forms of debt include technical debt (paying the price for historically putting off building a robust platform in order to meet short-term customer needs), process debt (taking shortcuts for the sake of expediency to get things done without stopping to make core business process robust and repeatable), and cultural debt (not investing in the culture and values because you're so busy trying to avoid drowning in work and the demands of the market).

Take the time this summer to pay down all forms of organizational debt. Don't let the excuse, "we haven't had the time" stop you from cleaning up some of the messes that were left in the wake of past sprints.

4. Build enduring relationships
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it hard to build authentic, deep relationships. Zoom makes everything more efficient, but more transactional. This summer, take the time to hone in on a few important relationships and make the effort to meet up face to face, spend unscheduled long stretches of time, and (gasp) just hang out. Personally, I'm terrible at slowing down. Zoom has brought out the worst of my tendencies in this regard and so am keen to heed my own advice here!

In Jim Collins' book, Built to Last, he writes about the playbook for building an enduring company. Spoiler alert: slowing down to focus on team, culture, organizational design, business model and continuous improvement are all a part of the formula. So take a breath this summer and redouble your commitment to building a company and business that will endure.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn. Follow Jeffrey Bussgang on LinkedIn to read more of his posts.

Jeffrey J. Bussgang is a senior lecturer in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at the Harvard Business School as well as co-founder and general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm.

[This article was provided with permission from Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.]

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