When war erupted between the United States and Spain at the turn of the 19th century, President William McKinley knew establishing communication with Cuban insurgents could be decisive to victory. But with the rebel General Garcia hiding in the expansive Cuban mountains, how would he reach him when a telegraph and courier could not?
McKinley turned to a young military officer after being advised of a "fellow by the name of Rowan who will find Garcia for you, if anybody can." Upon receiving his mission, Rowan left for Cuba, with the President's letter in tow, in search of the generalísimo.
Three weeks later he emerged, having successfully delivered the message to Garcia.
Elbert Hubbard's classic, A Message to Garcia, has been read for decades by Annapolis midshipmen and West Point cadets because it's a testament to the power of initiative. It shows the significance of a leader's ability to identify and inspire, and most of all, trust others to independently execute on a mission.
Many entrepreneurs share Rowan's initiative and drive. They love obstacles, solving problems and working until they succeed (or die trying). But how many identify, inspire, and trust others to do the job? That's the difference between a start-up founder and someone leading a viable business.
Our experience building Rocket Lawyer has been like transitioning from a one-man band into an orchestra with a conductor. At first, the founder (me) played much of the music. But over time, the only way to perform a symphony was for the leader to put down his trumpet, step away from the orchestra and conduct, giving individual performers both the guidance and space to bring their talents together.
It takes time and commitment to go all in on team building. So a good first step is to write down your mission. (At Rocket Lawyer, ours is to make the law affordable and simple.) Next, you should write down the key individual qualities, like initiative, that you're certain will help you succeed. Critically evaluate everyone on your team against these criteria, strive to mentor and develop them, and only hire those who fit the bill.
Finding the right team is really a prerequisite to transitioning from founder to leader. Without such a team, you can't achieve the force multiplier of capable colleagues. Both Walter Isaacson's biography, Steve Jobs, and Brad Stone's book on Amazon, The Everything Store, outline this in detail.
Both founders identified and managed teams that deliver stunning results. People like Tim Cook, Jony Ive, Joy Covey, Jeff Wilke and many others have exceeded the founder's expectations (and individual capacity) by taking Apple and Amazon farther than they deemed possible.
At about 200 people, Rocket Lawyer is still relatively new to its journey. Our senior team of Dan Nye, Monique Moore, Paul Hollerbach, David Baga, An Tran and Courtney O'Connell constantly refines how we work together to deliver the legal service our customers need.
So what is the path from start-up founder to leader? Not that far from the route between the unknown and the Cuban mountains that Rowan traversed. To go from founder to leader, find, inspire, and promote those people who, when given a "letter for Garcia," can figure out how to deliver it all by themselves.