By Alex Gibbs. There are numerous ‘wisdom snippets’ that float around the internet on the topic of surrounding yourself with the right people for success. “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with…If you hang around with five inspired people, you will become the sixth,” etc. Whilst these can read like self-help Instagram cliches, the fact is that the underlying message endures the test of time, as there is certainly truth to it.
For millennia, humans have learned and performed most effectively via learning from, and performing with, people who have the right knowledge, attributes and skillsets to help drive them forwards. Think of students learning from a teacher, an apprentice learning from a master and a world class sports performer playing as part of a national team. Each of them is being made more effective by those around them.
This all seems fairly obvious yet, as a founder, it is all too easy to become isolated. Formal education has been completed, forced corporate training no longer features and, for many, even the concept of colleagues is a luxury too far in the early stages of the business journey.
How then, can we take this concept and use it to maximum advantage throughout the founder’s journey?
Select the correct partners
It is not necessarily essential to have business partners / co-founders in order to create something special, however, if you are going to have partners, it is hugely important to select the right people. Remember that surrounding yourself with the wrong people will impact your effectiveness just as much as surrounding yourself with the right people will, so choose wisely.
Whenever I am asked what has enabled our business to have the success it has had to date, one of the very first things I cite is that, in Jordi Pasqualin, I am very fortunate to have absolutely the right person as my business partner.
The attributes of ‘the right partner’ will vary depending upon the attributes and characteristics of any given founder. However, when looking to partner in business, I would suggest that a shared vision is crucial and a complementary skillset is very beneficial.
If, at some point in your journey, you determine that an existing business partner is not the correct person, I would strongly recommend addressing this openly and finding a fair, amicable and mutually-agreeable means of going in separate directions. This could be a move that takes you five steps backwards and then a thousand steps forwards; such is the power and influence of a partnership. Whilst potentially painful in the short term, it is far better to address this early than have it come to a head later when there is a multi-million pound asset and hundreds of jobs at stake.
Build the right team
Whenever asked by founders / leaders of organisations in the earlier stages of their scale-up journey for our ‘top tips’ on running and scaling a business successfully, my business partner and I will usually (often simultaneously) come out with the phrase ‘hire well and hire early’.
It is almost impossible to overstate the power of hiring a great team and harnessing them to deliver on your mission. Whilst, clearly, the financials of your business need to allow for these hires, I have found that, typically, founders tend to hold onto tasks within their businesses for too long and then to hire at too junior a level when they do bolster the team. Where possible, hiring great talent, experience and attitude early will provide you with an excellent resource to assist with fleshing out an effective company structure and building brilliant teams within it.
Don’t fall into the trap of hiring a pair of hands to complete a task. In a scale-up, everyone you hire should be adding something to your culture and expanding the way the business thinks and acts.
Create a pool of trusted advisors
As your journey as a founder unfolds, you will be required to navigate all manner of significant challenges. Some will be expected (needing to build a team), some will not (navigating an enduring pandemic). In all instances, having a close-knit pool of trusted advisors from whom you can seek wise counsel and ‘borrow experience’ will be hugely beneficial.
Make sure there is a blend of expertise and experience on your ‘Advisory Board’. Differing viewpoints and robust round-the-table discussions can form the basis of some of the most valuable and insightful meetings you will have.
As with hiring your executive team, forming a pool of advisors is a task best commenced early. Whilst, clearly, you cannot predict the unexpected challenges that will befall you on your journey, having multiple decades’ worth of varied experience in your corner is certainly a great way to maximise the chances of successfully conquering these challenges when they rear their heads. To exemplify this point, our own Board of Directors has found it hugely valuable, as the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, to have several individuals within its pool of advisors who have navigated multiple economic downturns as business owners. We did not assemble the group for this purpose, but having it there to discuss issues, brainstorm strategic response and create a roadmap to see us through this period has been of great benefit.
Consider also the ‘network effect’ of having these individuals involved in your endeavors. A key function of a good Advisory Board is to facilitate introductions to entities and individuals who may be able to assist you in your mission.
Continually surround yourself with people you’ve never met
A concept that transcends all stages of scaling an enterprise, and which should begin before your company even exists, is that of learning from people you’ve never met. This is most readily accomplished via reading. Numerous figures at the top of their business game have reading habits which have become infamous; Bill Gates reportedly reads circa fifty books per year whilst annotating to help him reflect, Warren Buffet is said to spend five to six hours a day consuming reading material relevant to his business interests.
It is true that there is rarely a substitute for experience, but it is also true that you can rapidly accelerate your learning curve by learning from the experience of others. Reading relevant material is an incredibly efficient means of facilitating that.
In today’s world there are numerous ways of engaging with value-adding material. For those who enjoy a physical book, that’s great, start there. For those who can’t sit still, pop an audiobook on and go for a walk. For those who prefer less structure and a more free-flowing form of information, jump on some relevant podcasts and absorb people’s knowledge and experience that way. Finding a method that works for you and fits in with your schedule is the key here. As with many things in life, forming a positive habit which enables small but consistent improvements (eg improving knowledge via reading for 30 minutes per day) will yield huge dividends when compounded over time.
The key message then, is that founders should pro-actively and intentionally seek to surround themselves with people who can help to drive them forwards at every stage of their journey. It is not enough to rely on chance and proximity within network for these connections, founders should cast a wide net and remain open minded yet discerning with regard to who they bring with them on their adventure. Time invested in this will pay for itself many, many times over.
About the Author:
Alex Gibbs, Co-Founder and Director of Built Asset Management Ltd
Built Asset Management (BAM) is London’s leading co-living operator, renting over 1,000 rooms to tenants across the capital. Since its inception in 2013, BAM has housed over 3500 professionals from circa 1000 London-based employers, offering high-end, “fuss-free” co-living properties (bills, wi-fi, cleaning etc included) and at the same time guaranteeing rental income to landlords for an extended contract period (typically between 3-5 years). The company remains passionate about seeking ways in which to facilitate attractive, functional professional accommodation across London and further afield.
Linked In – https://www.linkedin.com/company/5070431
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Alex Gibbs LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alex-gibbs-694b9b18/