The Caterpillar Leader
The start-up leader (aka the Caterpillar Leader) is a unique breed. In order for them to start a company, they need a distinctive set of skills. This includes:
Strong Competitive Drive
A burning desire to be the best
A continuous fear that you won’t be the best
Agility / ADD
Ability to quickly change direction in order to determine a product-market fit that will make you the best
A relentless search to get new customers and convince them you’re the best. You’ll figure out the rest after you land them.
A focus on the biggest vulnerabilities stopping you from being the best and an overwhelming will to address them immediately
You may know a person just like this.
Now imagine that start-up leader mentality is in charge of an early growth company – one with 30+ employees and ~$10m in revenue. Just picture the culture that would ensue.
In fact, I’ll help you picture that culture because it looks a lot like this picture here…
When A Caterpillar Leader Leads
While the startup leader mentality must continually pivot priorities to chase the money and product/market fit, by the time the company reaches about $10m, the fit has been well established.
The traits of the startup mindset, though critical for early success, become a detriment to a company’s scalability.
Here is what usually permeates companies in the early growth/~$10m stage when they are led by a startup-minded leader:
- Lack of accountability
- Poor customer experiences
- Lack of scalable processes
- Increasingly horrendous culture
- Lack of ability to scale revenue
The Butterfly Leader
Early growth leaders (aka Butterfly Leaders) must understand that scalable processes are the key to success.
Whereas startups are sales-driven and must change tactics to meet the needs of the market, early-growth companies must transform to a more process driven culture.
Processes are essential in this stage. Without processes, there is no scale. Without processes, there is confusion and frustration among the employees.
The leaders must understand that employees of growth companies want to have clarity, consistency, and reliability in their jobs. They didn’t sign up for the schizophrenia of a startup environment.
Unfortunately, most startup leaders are not wired to create consistent, reliable, and highly scalable processes.
Most start-up leaders believe the thinking that got them to $5m in revenue is the same type of thinking that will get them well above $10m.
It’s not and it won’t.
When a start-up Caterpillar Leader fails to grow into the new role as an early growth leader, one of two things will happen. Either:
1) They will lose their job, or
2) They will perform so poorly that the company will never scale and will eventually fade away or crash and burn.
Exhibiting start-up behavior in an early growth environment will make employees want to thwack a waffle iron upside the leader’s head.
The reactivity and anxiety that was critical in the early stages must be put away and forgotten. Most entrepreneurial leaders can’t do this.
To be fair, we all expect start-up leaders to simply change who they are, yet just about every human on this planet has a tough time dramatically altering their innate personality.
Imagine if you are a right-brained creative and were told that in order to keep your job you need to become a left-brained analytical person. It’s not that easy.
That doesn’t make anyone a failure.
It’s like asking a caterpillar to morph into a butterfly. And we all know how rare that is.