Growth is Job One for every entrepreneur and company leader--in every industry and market. Lots of great books have been written about the why, whats and hows of growth--from classics like The Innovator's Dilemma and Crossing the Chasm to helpful guides like The Startup Owner's Manual and The Lean Startup on the mechanics of launching new ventures from scratch. But these resources largely ignore the who--the central actor in the business growth process: the business builder him or herself.
The builder is the real catalyst for growth, and his or her personality frames the major decisions that propel or limit that growth. Should you join with a co-founder, what kind of team and employees to recruit, how best to transform your ideas into products, which prospects to convert to customers, what investors will align with your strategy, and how to scale your overall enterprise--who you are shapes how you answer these questions and build your company.
Our new book, Built for Growth: How Builder Personality Shapes Your Company, Your Team, and Your Ability to Win, focuses on the interplay between Builder Personality and the dynamics of growing successful companies of enduring value.
Using a patented research methodology, called Personality-Clustering, that has decoded customer behavior in hundreds of markets worldwide, we turned our attention to the men and women who build lasting businesses of meaningful scale. How are these people wired? What motivates them, how do they make decisions, manage people and lead their organizations?
Common wisdom and media stereotypes suggest you have to be like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk to win as an entrepreneur. We discovered, however, there are four successful Builder Personality types, each with its own distinct mix of gifts and gaps.
These are the Jobs and Musks of the world, but their ranks also include less well-known builders like Ben Weiss of Bai Drinks, Howard Lerman from Yext or Mi Jong Lee of Emmelle fashions. Almost predestined to be entrepreneurs, they fixate on the products they are confident the market is looking for, are demanding and impatient with those around them, and can sometimes stay too long in love with the solutions they bring to life.
Their intensity and market-sensing gifts are notable, but their management and leadership styles can pose difficulties as their businesses grow. Specifically, they can drive off talented people unwilling to work under their overly-controlling approach, and therefor run the risk of becoming trapped inside their own growing businesses.
If Drivers fixate on product, Explorers are fascinated by puzzle solving. They are deeply curious and relish the challenge of converting their understanding of complex systems to a commercially better solution. Mark Zuckerberg would be a famous exemplar, but so, too, are builders like Brian O'Kelley, founder of AppNexus (an AdTech unicorn), Sara Blakeley of Spanx (who asked, "why are pantyhose made the way they are?"), or Mark Bonfigli, the founder of dealer.com, who pivoted his Explorer skills from service design to creating a vibrant, healthy workplace culture.
Explorers often struggle to reconcile their curiosity and analytical prowess with the practical and more interpersonal aspects of running a complex, growing enterprise. Sometimes they need to liberate themselves from the CEO suite to get back directly working with the engineers or designers solving puzzles on the horizon. O'Kelley calls this "going ninja," while Lerman refers to it as "jumping back in the pirate ship."
Ever tasted Ben & Jerry's ice cream? If so, you've enjoyed a crusader's business in a cup or cone, mixing great flavors with a social message. These builders are almost entrepreneurs by accident. They are primarily motivated by an inspiring long-term vision and corresponding mission to change the world or reshape a market. For them, building a company is a commercial means to that end, not an end in itself. Jenny Fleiss, co-founder of Rent the Runway, saw an opportunity to offer "Cinderella moments" to young women at important life events. She fits this bill, as does Nate Morris of Rubicon Global, bringing an asset-light Uber model to solid waste disposal. Google's founders are also Crusaders; they set out to transform nothing less than how the world organizes and uses information.
But Crusaders often have trouble translating big vision into supervision of the operational details necessary to get there, and tend to avoid conflict along the way. Angelo Pizzagalli, of PC Construction, told us he and his cofounder used to hire people they "wanted to have breakfast with." That sometimes left them with employees they liked but who didn't have the operational skill set needed to strengthen and scale their building business.
These builders start from the "we" rather than the "me." They are intrigued and challenged by the potential of the team around them, preferring to build consensus and shared commitment to their vision of the business at hand. The founders of HP built such a culture of collaborative reciprocity, known as the "HP /Way." Margery Krauss, founder of APCO Worldwide, has built her PR firm with this leadership and management orientation. And John Crowley applied some of his Navy SEAL leadership training in growing two different biotech venture teams, carefully managing the mixture of scientists and business executives.
Captains are decisive when necessary, but their preference to empower their colleagues can remove them from the frontlines. This can be problematic in fast-moving markets in which tracking and reacting to changing customer needs is critical to company performance.