The Founder’s Paradox: How Do You Get Out of the Details When You Care More About the Details Than Anyone Else?
May 1, 2018

The Founder’s Paradox: How Do You Get Out of the Details When You Care More About the Details Than Anyone Else?

by Brian de Haaff

Most founders care deeply. I know that I do. About everything that Aha! is and will be — the people and the product. About everything that does not go the way we want it to. I care about every little detail. Yet, the skyrocketing growth of the company means that I must not dwell on every little detail. Care, but do not care? I feel like I am being squeezed.

It strikes me now that it is more than just caring. Most successful founders know at their very core what is right and what is wrong for the organizations they lead.

I was reminded of this recently after speaking with a job candidate. Everyone on our team thought this person was a great fit. But when I dove into the details of what the candidate shared with me during a deep conversation, I knew that they would not be happy in the role that we were discussing. It was not aligned with their aspirations.

I just seem to hone in on what is missing. It is not because I am smarter. Definitely not so. In fact, as a kid, I was the one who always worked the hardest to overachieve — not the one with the genius IQ.

As a company founder, I believe that I can pick up on the minute rightness and wrongness of a given situation because I know the details best of anyone. I also know the price of not focusing on those details — the cost is excruciatingly high.

And so I want to get it right, but I also really fear getting it wrong. I do not want to get it wrong. I care about the details most because I must. For the company and for myself.

Founders set the standard for how their companies operate. The paradox is that, as you rapidly grow, you cannot be involved in everything, but you need to be.

So how do you get out of the details but never really leave them? You do it mostly through your words and the follow-up actions. You do it through clarity of vision, goals, and initiatives. And you do it with a set of values that leave no doubt about the quality of work that is expected and how decisions should be made.

See, you cannot personally make all of the decisions. But by sharing and upholding the set of beliefs that you built the business on, when people face tough challenges, they will be able to ask themselves: What do our company values suggest that I do here? What are the consequences of my actions — or lack of acting at all?

It is true that, as you grow your own team, you will inevitably drift a bit from the nitty-gritty of everyday work. It is inevitable, but it does not mean that your spirit and intent walks away from the details that, when added together, make your company what it is.

So clearly set the following structure in place to allow you to step away from every decision but never be too far:

Vision Without vision, there is nowhere to go. Of course, having a clear vision was essential to starting the business. But keeping that vision top-of-mind for everyone is essential to continually growing the company.

Values Great achievement comes when people apply themselves towards a common purpose. Sharing, living, and building upon those values energizes the team. The principles that the company was founded on should be clear and evident in how the company behaves.

Goals Truly ambitious people thrive when you give them big goals. Maybe even audacious goals. Set and communicate a few key goals at least every six months and make sure people know how their work relates to what the company is trying to accomplish.

Workflow This is about process and how work gets done — creating frameworks for success. For the Aha! team, it encompasses everything from how we hire to how we onboard customers. Process is often left to organically sprout in growing companies, but consider more prescriptive approaches and watch people flourish.

Learning Sharing of information. Tons of feedback. Direct conversations. Make space for people to provide their own insights and an openness to question what has worked. Learning is needed to mature the vision, values, goals, and workflow. Value education because it is the most important way you can truly contribute to the long-term success of individuals in your company.

Caring deeply while also letting go is an exercise in trusting yourself. It also demands that you have faith that you have hired people who want to put in big effort to be right themselves.

You need to trust that you have articulated a picture of the future that everyone understands. Trust that you have hired people who share your company’s values. Trust that you have created an environment where people can make the right decisions. And trust that, for every misstep, there is a safety net to catch people — to help them and the company get it right the next time.

This is not a paradox that can be solved — which is why it is so fascinating.

You should be proud of your micromanaging ways when you are just getting started. And as you grow and have less obvious influence in the organization, your philosophy must keep you close to what is happening. Keep your belief system and what has made the company successful top-of-mind for people who are really running the business.

Read more of The Founder’s Paradox.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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