When you imagine yourself building a tech company from the ground up, you might think of it as an exciting experience working inside an incredible environment, with an awesome team and a beautiful product that your customers love. Seems pretty straightforward. Well, it is not.
To clarify my point, it is relevant to share my +1 year experience as the Peru Country Manager of Tandem (www.gotandem.co), a Mexican tech company with a B2B solution for office spaces; looking to accelerate order placing, while increasing control, visibility and compliance company wide. In our first year, we’ve become the go-to platform for office and coworking spaces, with a steady 30% MoM growth. From all prime coworking SQMs in Lima, +85% run in Tandem.
While launching and building the operation in Lima, I experienced two important processes: the initial ride and the struggle.
It looks like a very traditional process, but when you try to get a lot of things done fast, you might lose track of what really matters.
- Assessing the opportunity to join the company, I felt really driven and pushed myself to the limit to deliver during the entire selection process. A few weeks before starting, there was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty: after three years at Endeavor I was jumping to the other side of the table to join an early-stage startup from Mexico – with just one laptop in Peru. The three main variables that convinced me to join were: a) the experienced team behind (who started as Aliada in Mexico and later pivoted into Tandem), b) the regional opportunity and growth potential, and c) the upside the first two could provide.
- Setting-up as a tech company is tricky. To do it correctly and start acquiring customers/revenue, you must work with a legal office that understand your size and needs. Specially if your plan is to hit the ground running.
- Hiring is definitely the hardest. When you are looking for your first key hire, take your time to find someone that truly inspires you. Finding this position only by sharing a job description across hiring platforms is not going to do the job. You need to actively prospect, and find the person that will fill that box.
- Selling might seem really hard, but at the begging it is not. You have a solution, know your market, and use your connections to get things off the ground.
- Building proper processes is really (really!) hard. In my case, technology was not on our plate since the tech team is in CDMX; building and gathering insights as we scale. By processes I mean an efficient way to have everyone in sync, and everything available at all times (and in order!). With such a small team and limited resources, you don’t want to spend time searching for information.
- Measuring everything is impossible, focus on a few things that are really important to keep an eye on. Plus, you might want to be generally ok than perfectly wrong… so don’t spend ridiculous time on things like budgeting or projecting.
- Managing a small team is hard, specially when things never go as planned. You are trying to be the best possible leader while making a lot of mistakes in the way – and changing your mind very often. You need to be transparent about it and trust your team to find the right answers.
- Communicating when you have little time is hard (and holding everyone accountable on what they said is impossible!), so we tried to find a place where things can be communicated properly and focus our time on things with an important/urgent tag on it.
- Reporting to our HQs in Mexico and to investors depends entirely on how good is your team when paying attention to detail, and how you as a manager provided the information platform needed to get every input together— on time and accurately (this is where we most suffer!).
The initial ride is over now, so you join a new one that is even harder and could be a tipping point for your company.
There is a part of the journey when you lose something really important; a team member left, a product release went wrong, or a loyal customer churned. Welcome to “The Struggle”. This part of the startup process is constantly challenging you as a leader, and it requires a new set of skills that I somehow identify and learned to incorporate into my team and myself.
I will quote a chapter from Ben Horowitz book (which I strongly recommend!), “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, and from where I got the name for this section.
The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place.
The Struggle is when your employees think you are lying and you think they may be right.
The Struggle is when food loses its taste.
The Struggle is when you don’t believe you should be CEO of your company.
The Struggle is when you are having a conversation with someone and you can’t hear a word that they are saying because all you can hear is the Struggle.
The Struggle is when you go on vacation to feel better and you feel worse.
The Struggle is not failure, but it causes failure. Especially if you are weak. Always if you are weak.
Most people are not strong enough.The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz
It might be early for me to reflect on this subject as our struggle just began (that is also why I quoted it!). But this means you need to start evolving as a leader and feel comfortable when facing new difficult times. Trust your team and remember all what you’ve been through to be in this position; it is not a matter of who is tougher… it is about not taking it personal and fighting back when it is most needed.