I met up with some entrepreneur friends, Keith and Adam, to play a board game last weekend. Keith has been grinding to get a new SaaS product released that is an extension of his highly successful core SaaS product. After we finished gaming, we hung out in his kitchen and talked about the journey.

Keith said that he’s spending most of his time writing code, but to scale to his ideal exit point he needs to figure out enterprise sales.

Adam asked, “Why don’t you just hire a developer?”

“No one’s good enough to work on this problem,” he replied.

“What are the things in the business only you can do?” Adam asked.

“Product management, figuring out the strategic direction, what to build next,” Keith said.

I asked, “What’s the function in the business that is foundational to everything else? That must be accomplished and enables everything else?”

Keith thought for a moment and then said, “Sales.”

This is a challenge that many of us come to as owner operators.

The business pulls us into a specific role that is missing and urgent. For Keith, that’s being a senior dev + UX designer.

Then there’s the role of leading the business forward, setting direction, vision, and organizing resources to achieve that vision. Ideally, we bring some unique capabilities to this position. That was Adam’s question.

But there’s also a function that underpins your operating strategy (see last Friday’s, https://knighterrant.co/the-games-we-play ). This is what must be protected and nurtured for the business to grow. That was my question. Or more accurately, Mike Michalowicz’s question from his book, Clockwork.

Keith could:

  • Give the squeaky wheel grease and keep slugging it out in operations. This is what the business wants.
  • Hire someone to do sales or take it on himself, if only temporarily (Michalowicz.) This is what the business needs.
  • Find a good enough developer or two and step back into the driver’s seat in the owner-operator role for strategic growth (Adam.)

There’s not a right answer here. At different points, different choices make sense. Keith’s in a short term sprint and the need for a better developer may be delayed for some time once he’s through. Not hiring immediately might be a strategic choice to conserve his resources (time, money, energy, and attention.) Similarly, it may make sense to delay hiring a salesperson if there’s an underlying issue with the product or operations that will cause problems as sales come in.

However, it’s incredibly easy to get in the habit of always responding to what the business wants. And there’s a cost to that.

Featured image is Odin and Frea look down from their window in the heavens to the Winnili women in an illustration by Emil Doepler, 1905. Used under public domain.