Seven strategies for successful startup leadership

Seven strategies for successful startup leadership

Join us this week at Entrepreneurship 101 for our last Lived It Lecture of the year. Janet Bannister of Real Ventures will join us and speak about her experience in launching one of Canada’s most successful Internet brands, Kijiji, the online classified business owned by eBay.

Last week at Entrepreneurship 101, we heard from three successful entrepreneurs on how to be an effective startup leader.

Not to be confused with management, leadership involves setting a vision for your company, communicating that vision and motivating people to follow you on the journey.

Here’s what our speakers had to say about being a successful startup leader.

1. Think with a possibility mindset

What would you do if anything were possible? That’s the question Jennifer Corriero, co-founder of TakingITGlobal, asked herself 10 years ago and it led to a successful social-purpose venture.

She continues to think with that possibility mindset. “I wouldn’t want to make my decisions as an entrepreneur based on probability thinking alone,” she says. “As entrepreneurs, we need to focus on what’s possible.”

2. Bring what you love into what you do

Recognize that you sometimes you won’t want to make revenue off of your passion, and that’s okay. You can bring the qualities of the things you love into what you do.

Your employees should also be empowered to bring what they love into their roles, Jennifer says. That passion will fuel a sense of joy in the workplace—and more growth for your business.

How can you tell if you and your employees have passion for what you’re doing? “If it’s giving you energy, keep doing it. If it’s totally draining you, those are the things that you need to drop.”

3. Have a strong sense of purpose

As a social entrepreneur, Jennifer believes it’s important for all new businesses, regardless of how they’re incorporated, to be aligned with a purpose that will help humanity thrive.

Leaders don’t have to be rigid in following this purpose. Jennifer invoked the metaphor of using a compass rather than a GPS in getting to where you want to go: you don’t need to be in an exact location in an exact time, but rather, just heading in the right general direction.

Setting a direction that your team understands and believes in will help them answer the question, “Why should I care?”

4. Communicate your vision

While one person can make a difference, a movement requires a crowd—and rallying a crowd around your vision requires effective communication.

When Chakameh Shafii was starting out with TranQool, she had to motivate people to quit their jobs and join her company. That meant she had to persuade others that there was a market for her vision, and that they were going to be the ones to build it.

Being able to communicate the right message is what will inspire people to join your movement, and Chakameh says good storytelling is a skill that can be learned. At the heart of effective communication is understanding your audience.

“You have to be able to talk to people the way they need to be spoken to. Know the need and want of the person standing in front of you.”

5. Empathize with your team

Or, as Chakameh puts it, “you’ve got to be the first person to go.” Leaders can gain respect and trust by showing empathy. She says that everyone is human and has emotions—that gut feeling inside is what often drives us to do things. At the end of the day, people need to relate to you if they’re going to jump ship with you.

6. Get really good at writing “to-do” lists

To keep her perspective in check, Kristen Wood approaches her business THE TEN SPOT as a long, never-ending “to-do” list. It makes the everyday life of a leader more manageable and less overwhelming. Break down things that are intimidating into a list of small manageable tasks, and then execute on those items.

Kristen says when she started her business she didn’t feel anxious about whether her idea was going to work because she broke down every big, scary step—like getting financing—into smaller tasks to get done.

7. Recognize your weaknesses

Know what you’re great at, but also know what you’re not great at. Kristen recognized early on that finances were not her strength, so one of her first hires was a bookkeeper to manage that role.

“It’s important as a leader to show your team that you’re not a master of everything,” Kristen says. Focus your time and attention on what you’re good at, and hire others to take on the rest.

Missed the presentations?

Watch the videos and hear more insights from our speakers on startup leadership.

How to Develop a Growth Mindset​

How to Build a Movement

From Small Business Owner to Franchise CEO

Entrepreneurship 101 course resources

And search “Entrepreneurship 101” on iTunes U.