(This post was previously published on Inc.)
Being the CEO of a fast-growing tech company isn’t easy. Problems — seemingly defying gravity — tend to roll uphill, and if an issue reaches your desk as the CEO, it means the brilliant and talented people you hired were unable to solve it.
In short: it must be one heck of a problem.
Knowing the buck stops with you can be intimidating for many first-time CEOs. One way to make the task less daunting is to realize yours are not the lone footsteps on the mountaintop. Even if you’re being incredibly innovative and defining a new industry, others have been there before in some sense. Sometimes being a great leader means being humble enough to ask for advice.
For my part, I have been helping lead Dyn since I graduated college. As such, I’ve never really had a boss who took me under his or her wing. To fill this void, I have actively sought mentors throughout my career. Importantly, I did not limit my search to my own field, but rather shared meals and received advice from people in diverse industries, businesses, and sectors. Casting a wide net will expose you to a variety of ideas and strategies–and this exposure will arm you with a well-rounded skillset so you can tackle any problem you face with confidence.
Here are three of the best pearls of wisdom I’ve encountered so far:
Build a company…a sustainable company.
This may seem straightforward, but it isn’t so obvious in the tech world. Dazzling features and revolutionary products are sexy, but to truly change your industry, you need to build a sustainable company. This advice is all about completeness. If you look at yourself as a company, you will make better features and products.
We all know how exciting it is to develop new features and products. For a lot of us, that’s why we got involved in the game to begin with. However, having too many features without understanding how they fit into your company strategy means you’re at risk of stretching yourself too thin and watering down your brand.
It is easy for this to happen. It takes a lot of discipline to be the best at one thing when it is so much less risky to just try to appeal to everyone.
However, you can always build a successful company around being the best.
If you want to be the best, you’ll have to push beyond your own expectations. As a founder, this can be difficult because you already believe in your company more than anyone on the planet. Now I’m asking you to believe a little more. Continuously raising the bar will help fight off complacency.
I helped bootstrap Dyn for 10 years. Only in 2012 did we take our first round of Series A funding, establishing a board in the process. I was proud of our accomplishments (we were set to have $30 million a year in revenue) when I shared them with our newly formed board. But during the meeting, one of the members kept asking, “How do you exceed it? How do you get more customers? How do you extract more value?”
Never be afraid to push the envelope because even if you miss, you’ll end up further ahead than you imagined.
The last bit of advice is the easiest to say but the hardest to follow: learn to let go. As CEOs and founders, we like being in the trenches and getting our hands dirty. But as you grow and succeed, you need to trust the team you’ve built around you. I learned this from someone who ran a sheet metal fabrication company (remember that wide net of mentors?) and it makes total sense.
You can’t be bogged down with details, but need to keep your eye on the prize. As they say, lead the company into future. If you believe in it, I’m sure you’ll be successful.
And when you do make it big, remember the tons of young entrepreneurs out there who are looking for a mentor. Continue the circle of entrepreneurial life.