When founders get stuck

Talking to videogame company founders over the last few months, I feel like I’ve stumbled on a common theme. Put simply, these founders have become the victim of their own success.

They usually have plenty of customers or clients. Their financials are looking good. Their team might even be growing. And yet…

And yet most of them have shared a version of the following two challenges with me:

  • They feel like they’re too embedded in the organization, and don’t have enough time to do what they should be doing: leading the company.
  • Even if they have a pretty good idea of where they want the company to go, there is a nagging thought in the back of their head that goes “but do I *really* know how to get there?”

Their stories remind me of Larry Greiner’s growth model. Greiner suggests that after an initial phase of creativity, most companies will have to tackle what he calls a “crisis of leadership”. Founders end up spending more time doing, rather than managing. Something will have to change to bring order to the chaos.

Reiner’s Five Phases of Growth (credit: HBR.org)

Getting unstuck

When my clients start working with me, this is exactly what we tackle first. Getting the founders to a position of leading the company, working ON the company more than working IN the company; and making sure they have the time to do so. Just the fact that they have made a commitment to work on this is often a critical ingredient for the mindset change that is needed.

Of course, not everyone can or wants to work with a consultant or coach. If you want to tackle these challenges on your own, here are the three most important things you can do to get back in charge, and lead your company instead of being lead by your company.

1. Block time for working *on* the company

If you don’t have time, this is where it starts: MAKE time. Since you’re likely working a bunch more than you should in this scenario, the solution isn’s to spend more time, but to spend your time more wisely. Working with Rocks works wonders for identifying and focusing on the tasks that *really* matter, but only if your whole company implements it. If you just want to improve your own focus, two simple tools to consider are the Eisenhower matrix and Zone of Genius.

Eisenhower Matrix
Zone of Genius

Divide your projects and tasks over the quadrants, and prioritise work in the upper-right quadrants. Why? Because that is where a founder should be spending most of their time to have the biggest possible impact on the trajectory and velocity of their company. Non-Urgent but Important work, that only you can do. Everything in the lower quadrants should eventually be delegated to others or eliminated completely.

Make sure to block time in your agenda for these tasks. I guarantee you that if you don’t, you’ll be sucked right back into operational concerns and urgent busywork (especially since its been proven that our brains prefer urgency over importance).

2. Get another perspective

Find likeminded people that you can spar with. From within your business, it is often hard to see clearly what is going on. Having someone hold up a mirror and asking a few pointed questions, especially over a longer period of time, can be the difference between treading water and making waves.

This can be casual, 1-on-1 with a fellow entrepreneur, but some founders also assemble a board of advisors. The key is to find people that are just a few steps ahead of you, and who understand both your business and your industry. Getting the right outside perspectives gives you a headstart in understanding and solving problems.

3. Read a book

People have been here before, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Take advantage of the fact that there are books on every aspect of a business and more. The best leaders I know are all avid readers. If you don’t have a lot of time, consider getting my Better Book Notes for Busy Game Professionals, or one of the many other summary services out there.

Bonus: Hire better managers

If budget allows, you can never go wrong with investing in better, more experienced managers. Doing so makes it easier to solve complex issues as a management team, and if you plan to grow beyond 50 people or so, you’ll have to do this eventually anyway.

If you do these things, you are in a great position to get unstuck, and lead your company into the next phase of sustained growth.

Next steps

Here are some next steps you can take if you like what you’ve just read:

  • Subscribe to my newsletter to get new essays just like this one straight in your inbox, every two weeks on Tuesday.
  • Read GRIP by Rick Pastoor for more ideas, tips and tricks on gaining control over your time
  • If you’re having trouble making time to work on your company, or finding someone to spar with, I can help. I offer sparring sessions as well as more robust solutions to help you get on top of your business. Schedule an introductory meeting through my calendly page and let’s see if there’s a fit!