Launching a business is like putting together a thousand-piece puzzle. It's a challenge to sort through each piece while balancing the main artwork.
I wanted to get some firsthand insight into how an organization goes from a recently-launched startup to an established company, so I reached out to nine CEOs who have companies in the D.C. metro area, where I'm from. I asked them to reflect on lessons from the past year and comment on the future.
"Growth" was the common theme. But underneath the surface, the CEOs inadvertently outlined a common mental model for how they organize the puzzle pieces of their businesses.
The CEOs attributed their growth to four qualities, each in their own words, that apply to every kind of organization -- non-profits, startups, medical operations, sports teams, agencies, etc.
For each quality, you'll be asked to rate your company on a scale from 1 to 10, to help you objectively answer the questions: How is my company doing? Where is it strongest? Where does it need improvement?
1. The team
CEO of fast casual pizza shop &pizza Michael Lastoria refers to his team as the "Tribe" -- a term used to describe the unity and passion shared between hundreds of employees who are so bought into the culture they have the option to tattoo the brand's ampersand logo on their bodies for free, paid for by the company. Over 75 employees have partaken in this benefit.
Lastoria says, "A business is built on the shoulders of its people; it thrives and fails because of the people within it. I've never seen a successful business where the employees didn't feel appreciated, engaged, and supported. It's a simple, but critical, concept: allow your staff to thrive, and your company will thrive."
This sense of "Tribe" was a theme shared by other CEOs, including Eric Gundersen, CEO of mapping software company MapBox: he said his team consists of "like-minded people helping to carry out a single mission."
Lastoria and Gundersen pointed to unity and passion as signs of a strong team. But a "tribe" doesn't necessarily lead to growth. The inventory liquidation company Optoro's CEO Tobin Moore emphasized the importance of skill and expertise. "You need to have the best team in place to make sales."
Rate your company on a scale from 1 to 10: Is your team passionate? Unified? Talented and experienced?
2. The "guts"
Even with the right team in place, your people have to enjoy working together in an organized, clear way if they want to get anything done. The CEOs alluded to what I'm academically nicknaming "the guts" of a company -- the culture, operations, processes, and systems that guide how the work gets done.
CEO of event planning software company Social Tables, Dan Berger, said 2016 taught him "...that my approach to company building was all wrong. Basically, I was focused on every challenge I faced instead of putting together the systems for dealing with all challenges."
The guts are the systems you put in place to structure the operations (and culture) of your business. For example, you could pay for free lunch on Fridays and use that time to give company updates and share ideas, have daily standups between teams, or send out a weekly update email on Sundays like Twitter co-founder Biz Stone used to do with his new social query company Jelly. Whatever it is, the "guts" of your company determine how effective and efficient your team is.
Rate your company on a scale from 1 to 10: How well does your company handle challenges? Do you architect your operations? Is your company organized into documented systems and processes? Does the culture of the company make the work efficient and enjoyable?
3. The partners
As you know, relationships are everything in business. It was vividly apparent how almost every CEO thanked their partners.
Who are partners? Partners are a network of outside supporters ranging from investors, to mentors, to business partners, to the local community. Without them, you're sunk.
Alan Gannett, CEO of TrackMaven, a marketing analytics company, explained how the recent loss of a mentoring board member showed him that "the people I surround myself with are the single most valuable resource in my life, personally and professionally." He added, "The first step in growing a successful business is building that network of great people."
Mike Baird, CEO of telehealth startup Avizia, cited how important it was to swap notes and share stories from the battlefield with other CEOs.
Partnerships not only provide you with critical peer feedback, they can also present opportunities for business development. One CEO mentioned a recent partnership with Google.
Rate your company on a scale from 1 to 10: Do you have a network of partnerships you can fall back on or go to for insight? Are you building relationships that will lead to business opportunities? How are you involved in your community?
4. The technology
Lastly, the leaders acknowledged the vital role technology played in their companies, both internally and externally. Optoro CEO Tobin Moore said 2016 was all about "making sure we had the best technology in the market."
Internally, technology is the tools, software, and hardware your company uses to do its work. Externally, technology is the products and platforms your customer uses.
At its best, the right technology enables your company to be fast, reliable, and scalable. At its worst, it slows down operations and irks your customers. Look at what happened to Yahoo. A problem with technology creates an exploitable liability in the company.
Rate your company on a scale from 1 to 10: How effective do you think the technological solutions in your workplace are at addressing the problems they are supposed to solve? Are your products using the most up-to-date technology?
Tally up your score
Using the four pillars above, analyze how your company is doing in each of the areas on a scale from 1 to 10. How'd you do? Above thirty? It must be going well! Below thirty? Might be time to change things up...
This checklist isn't meant to be prescriptive or instructive for what you should do next. It's intended to give you a mental model to help you sort through and assess the pieces of your puzzle as you build it.
By dividing your company into these four pillars, you can quickly take a snapshot of your company and make decisions based on what you find out.