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A Control Freak's Guide to Delegating

To keep your start-up from dying of indecision, you have to give real authority to the members of your team. For many founders, that's not easy.
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Launching a start-up, you need to get a lot done quickly. Every day is different. Everyone pitches in with everything. It’s easy for the founding team to say, “We’re flexible. We all help out with everything!” But when it comes to making decisions—that flexibility can spell inefficiency and disaster.

While launching The Daily Muse, my co-founders Melissa, Alex, and I face a lot of decisions to make every day: What’s the right UX for our job search landing page? Are we comfortable taking on a new content syndication partner? How do we allocate marketing dollars to an SEO firm—or should we be doing that at all?

Of course we’re all willing to help with everything. But we figured out pretty quickly that there’s a trade-off—if anyone can make any decision, or everyone tries to be a part of every decision, we’d end up going back and forth on each and every issue when we really just need to move forward. So we divided up the responsibilities, clearly defined the role of each founder, and got back to work. And I would highly encourage any founders to do the same. Here’s how to make it work.

Don’t Take the Split Personally

Co-founding a company isn’t about doing what you most like to do. It’s about making sure that between all of you, the company meets its goals. Ideally, there’s a pretty good match between what needs to get done and what you want to do—but when it comes down to it, the work needs to be done by the person who’s in the best position to make that happen, right now. That might the person with the most skill in that area—the best writer, the best salesperson—or it might be the person with the most flexibility in her schedule right now. So talk it through, and divvy up the workload for maximum efficiency.

Own What You’re Responsible For (But Check In Frequently)

Each project and initiative we take on clearly “belongs” to one of the founders, and we count on each other to handle those responsibilities without the rest of us having to worry about it. When one of us needs to make a decision that obviously falls under our role—Should we reallocate our marketing budget this month? Do we want to a new partner to sponsor a contest?—it’s clear who’s responsible for making the choice, and she can run with it.

The split is also helpful externally. As we’ve grown The Daily Muse and met contacts who want to collaborate with us, knowing who does what has helped us be clear on who we want our partners to connect with—and makes us look buttoned up, too. SEO firm? Talk to our COO. An editor from the Huffington Post? Meet our Editor-in-Chief.

Of course, we bring the big decisions before the whole group and make sure no one gets left out of the loop—we are, after all, in this together. If a choice we face could significantly change the company’s direction, we plan time to talk about it and make sure we’re all comfortable.

With clearly defined roles and a focus on communication, it’s much easier to make your company come across as well-organized and on top of things—because it actually is.

Stay Flexible

I know. I told you flexibility was inefficient—and it is, if that’s your only plan. But your role will probably change as the company makes progress, and you need to be able to roll with it. When we launched our Company Muse profiles project, Alex needed to focus on product management, so I picked up user acquisition, which had formerly been one of her responsibilities. And as I’ve started fundraising, she’s taking it over again. Over time, it’s not unreasonable for the exact division of labor to change.

Finally, the good sort of flexibility also means knowing when to ask for help and when to jump in to assist your co-founders when they need it. And there are times, like launches, when it really is all hands on deck. Having clear roles doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for pitching in with everything else.

Last updated: May 21, 2012

KATHRYN MINSHEW | Columnist | Founder, Company Muse

Kathryn Minshew is the founder and CEO of Company Muse and The Daily Muse, a career platform and job discovery tool serving hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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