What Founders Need to Know About Their Role After VC Funding

Source: Rand Fishkin

Rand Fishkin, co-founder and CEO of SEOmoz, shares his thoughts on the evolving nature of a founder’s role after funding and his approach to supporting a newly expanded team.

A sudden cash infusion brings with it massive changes for a company and its founder. As your team grows, there is often a shift in your function and responsibilities — and your leadership mindset needs to shift along with it.

Rand Fishkin has been documenting the twists and turns of SEOmoz’s journey from startup to growth with remarkable transparency on his personal blog, where he regularly provides fresh insights into his own personal leadership challenges, growth, and lessons, as well. In a recent conversation with OpenView, Fishkin reflected on three key focal points that he believes should shape a founder’s role after funding.

A Founder’s Role After Funding

As a founder navigating the transition to more of an operating executive role, himself, one thing Fishkin underscores is just how important it is “to maintain lots of one-on-one connections with individuals.”

New hires will need to feel connected to the vision and inspired by it if they are going to stick around and go above and beyond what’s asked of them. Your pre-funding veterans will also need your time, since they are the foundation upon which your startup success was built. You can’t afford cracks in the foundation when scaling up, so they need to feel that the company’s new direction is still one they believe in.

Maintaining Personal Connections

“I have probably about 40%, 50% of my week, my working hours, set aside for one-on-ones with team members all across the organization.”

With employees old and new, a founder needs to make and maintain personal connections, Fishkin explains. “I have probably about 40%, 50% of my week, my working hours, set aside for one-on-ones with team members all across the organization.”

He sits down with engineers developing new products. He meets with designers working on wireframes, user experience, or re-skins. He checks in with managers to ensure every department is humming and happy. Not only will it ensure everyone’s needs are met, but “it lets me feel like I’m still a part of the ground floor and the operations,” Fishkin says, and it prevents him from becoming “too disconnected.”

You stay as connected as possible to the details and the daily operations of your company without disrupting the flow or veering back into maker mode. Fishkin reminds founders that this is not the time for you to produce things, set strategy, or evangelize. This is the time to take everything you’ve learned from years of hustling to get your startup off the ground and bring that knowledge back to the team, while also making every employee feel heard and listened to.

Patience and Positivity

Leave behind the notion that startup founders must be impatient. Fishkin believes that the expansion stage requires a cool head, calm approach, and a positive attitude.

“Positivity and optimism are extremely powerful weapons,” he says, and too often founders don’t wield them. Criticism and negativity drive a lot of action in startups, Fishkin laments, but it’s a short-sighted motivational tactic. That stress burns people out, and your company ends up losing in the end when you have to spend time and money replacing team members.

Remember that you, the founder, are no longer the rockstar producer who can move the needle all by yourself. Once you have a bigger team, it has to be a great team that pushes together.

Cultivating Company Culture is Key

Despite its rapid growth over the past year, SEOmoz has managed to maintain a low employee turnover rate. Fishkin thinks the key has been hiring with cultural fit in mind and pushing positivity from the top down.

For new hires, make sure that they are a solid cultural match and that their actions after coming on board align with your company’s core values. For team members who have been with your company for longer, make sure that they know they can voice their struggles with day-to-day work or certain tasks that feel overwhelming. Fishkin suggests “moving them into different roles if there’s something they’re most passionate about,” a strategy that’s “worked out terrifically well” for employee retention at SEOmoz.

About Scale Finance

Scale Finance LLC (www.scalefinance.com) provides contract CFO services, Controller solutions, and support in raising capital, or executing M&A transactions, to entrepreneurial companies. The firm specializes in cost-effective financial reporting, budgeting & forecasting, implementing controls, complex modeling, business valuations, and other financial management, and provides strategic help for companies raising growth capital or considering M&A/recapitalization opportunities. Most of the firm’s clients are growing technology, healthcare, business services, consumer, and industrial companies at various stages of development from start-up to tens of millions in annual revenue. Scale Finance LLC has offices throughout the southeast including Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, Greensboro, Wilmington, Washington D.C. and South Florida with a team of more than 30 professionals serving more than 100 companies throughout the region.