Editor's note: We asked noted entrepreneurs to reflect on what they wish they'd known starting out. Ben Simon created the national nonprofit Food Recovery Network to help combat food waste. In 2015, he founded Imperfect Produce, a startup that sells subscription farm boxes of fruits and vegetables rejected by supermarkets for cosmetic reasons. The company raised a few hundred thousand dollars through Indiegogo and a variety of small investment checks.

One aspect of running of a business--with 50 employees--that Simon values most is great leadership. Here, he shares a few of his most important lessons.

On the most valuable piece of advice he wish he knew...

It's not exactly original, since I got it from reading Jim Collins: "Don't try to be a superhuman CEO." That really resonated with me and I've been able to apply it.

There can be a lot of bravado and ego in the world of entrepreneurship. You are willing something into existence, just through blood, sweat, and tears. There's so much that goes into it -- especially on the nonprofit side or the social good side. A lot of the success can be driven by the founder's personality and their storytelling ability. It's almost like they are their organization's brand, moreso when it comes to social good than is typical in business. I see it a lot.

That piece of advice from Jim Collins totally reframed how I approach work and my mindset when I show up at the office every day. You have to focus a lot more on empowering others, instead of thinking about the direct contribution that you're making.

On his biggest [business] priority every day...

My co-founder Ben Chesler jokes with me all the time, "So wait, what's your job? What do you do?" But really, my job is to make sure everyone else is set up for success. On a daily level, it's about having a personal connection with everyone, sharing credit really broadly, and always letting other people make the decisions when you don't have to make the decisions. I'm basically the delegator-in-chief, and my job as CEO is to keep morale and performance high.

On leading with questions, not answers...

I must sound like Socrates or something--asking so many questions all the time, and helping other people get to the answers. Only in rare situations do I make a statement about what I think needs to happen, because usually someone else knows if you ask them the right question.

On learning to delegate...

In the beginning stages of both my two businesses, FRN and Imperfect Produce, I did all of the work myself. Without any money to hire staff, we didn't have a choice. I did the initial branding, sales, operational strategy--stuff like that. Eventually, we had to find smart people who we trusted, and let those pieces go. At that point, you just stand behind them and push.

On why you shouldn't be a clingy boss...

From talking to some of the folks that we've either hired or interviewed--who've worked at other venture-backed food startups--it seems like the norm is clingy bosses who either won't give enough direction, or won't let an idea go. That can breed a CEO who is really strong, but ends up hiring people who are less-skilled.

Published on: May 9, 2017