The startup movement made terms like customer development common in everyday entrepreneurial life. It is all about finding the right market for your product by solving customer problems and addressing their needs. Important points, if you wish to have a successful business with paying customers. But what about founder development? How does the business solve the founders’ problems and address their needs? This is not something founders or the startup community think about much. The founder is plugged into the business as a massive, fleshy, D-sized battery, giving energy to this new venture. But, like all batteries, without recharging, it will run out of energy and whatever it is powering will come to a standstill. Founder development is what will provide the needed charging to ensure the continuation of whatever it is powering ensuring business and founder longevity.
The farce of “when”
Being an entrepreneur for more than 18 years and coaching/mentoring other business owners, I have heard and used the term “when” a lot and it did not turn out well. “When” I achieve this level of success, I will start travelling with my family. “When” the company runs smoothly (which it never ever will), I will spend more time with myself and the ones I love. The “when” statement is always followed by some dream or an entry on a bucket list. And that is where it remains, a dream, somewhere on a list. It is a lie we tell ourselves and our loved ones. It will never happen, I can guarantee that. It will not happen because it is not part of the business plan. If your business plan is not giving you what you want and what you promised your family right now, it will not give it to you then either.
The wakeup call
One day the founder wakes up and realises deep down that he is unhappy. That wake up call can come gradually or suddenly. You slowly run out of energy and enthusiasm for your business. Your spouse moves into the spare bedroom or your eldest child leaves home to go and study. From personal experience, I found that the sudden option, although emotionally brutal, has a better chance of getting the founder to rethink his position between business and customer. This is usually when founder development starts, and sometimes too late.
It’s like a sales target
You don’t wish upon sales targets. You plan and execute sales targets. You don’t wish upon a business that gives you the time, money and space to grow. You plan and execute on a business that serves you just as much as it does the customer. You plan and execute a business that results in the growth of all three parties: founder, business and customer. This ensures the longevity of the business and its customers, just as it ensures the longevity of the founder. The business needs to feed the social, familial, physical, financial and personal development needs of the founder if you wish to grow the energy that drives the business. The D-sized battery will grow in power and multiply, resulting in renewed energy and enthusiasm for the business and its customers.
Let’s stop sacrificing great entrepreneurial minds, visions and energies on the altar of customer development. Let’s design the life of the founder as much as we design the life of the business and its customers. Founder development must be just as important as customer development. This approach could lengthen the life of businesses, because the founders know that serving the business and the customers, serves them. It is a gardener approach where we foster the healthy growth of the entrepreneurial seed within the founder, instead of trying to pluck fruit from a seedling.