Peerage founder Miles Nadal is a passionate entrepreneur. Here, he shares his views on how founders can balance the desire to stay involved in a venture, while pulling back from the daily management of the business.
You’ve Had a Long Career as A Founder. Now What?
For older entrepreneurs, the greatest challenge can be the transition to a smaller role
Entrepreneurship and startups are generally considered to be a young person’s game. There is no question that the energy and single-minded commitment required to start and scale a company is most appealing to those at the beginning of their work life.
But entrepreneurship is both a mindset — and an experience – that leaves an indelible mark on those who embrace it with any degree of success. At a time when traditional retirement models and expectations have already changed, a transformational role has emerged for those who have spent their careers forging new companies.
Control & Ego Check
If a founder wants to transition from daily, hands-on management of their ventures but also stay engaged and active in their businesses, the first step is to do some deep reflection. To be specific, reflection on the problematic sibling: control.
By their nature and experience, many successful entrepreneurs have a heightened urge to control every possible variable. Controlling behavior, after all, likely shaped their early success and rewarded their overall approach. Still, it can be a significant challenge to suddenly alter that behavior and relinquish command to others.
Another challenge is to think long and hard about the act of unbundling your identity (and ego) from the venture to which you have devoted so much of your time, energy, focus, and yes, control. Even entrepreneurs who have significantly expanded and professionalized their companies still reflexively think of it as an extension of themselves. How do you define yourself beyond the company and how will that change? This is something that must be honestly assessed ahead of anything else.
Map It Out
Once those two issues are addressed, it is time to look forward and build a personal portfolio of priorities. In the future, how much time do you want to allocate to business, travel, leisure, and family? How much time do you want to be in the office, in meetings, or on the phone? Once you have that sorted, apply a discount to your own calculations. When you finally take that step back, you may find that you actually want to be involved even less in the day-to-day. Be flexible. You just spent years dedicating your life to this business and once you give yourself the freedom to step back and break your routine, the time you’re willing to devote may be different than initially calculated.
While it is always imperative to have a clear succession strategy in place, this is not a matter of just simply ticking a box. It must be an evergreen process, one that is regularly reviewed and revised. You may think you have the next-generation team of managers locked in, but it is important to refresh timelines, milestones, roles, and responsibilities clearly and often. It’s also prudent to check in regularly with those who are poised to play bigger roles in the future: Circumstances change for others, not just you. That makes it important to ensure that your successors are fully engaged and ready when the time comes for you to take a step back.
Draw Boundaries in Sharpie
Another piece in the succession process is a clear-eyed assessment of your future contribution and where it will be best directed within the organization. It is imperative that clear lines are drawn and, if possible, a mechanism is put in place to avoid duplication and limit the amount of second-guessing that tends to creep in during a transition. Internally, the handover to a successor or successors must be sufficiently definitive that managers and employees, clients, suppliers, and other stakeholders do not revert to the founder at the first opportunity.
Determining where you will be involved can also be a tricky conversation. You may think your greatest strategic value is in one area, while the new leadership team may have quite another idea.
There is never a “one size fits all” solution. Entrepreneurs, after all, tend to be strong-willed individualists. With some honest and open reflection, however, it is possible to make an ongoing, meaningful contribution while shifting focus from business to other parts of life. At least a little.