This year I’ve interviewed more than 50 founders about their experiences building businesses through the seed and series A stages.
I’ve been struck by two contrasting themes emerging about how founders perceive the growth of their business and the organisation that lies within it.
I’ve met founders and operators who see the emergence of a company as a practice akin to an art.
For them it’s a creative endeavour, powered by instinct, emotion and imagination.
And I’ve also met leaders who have taken a planned, methodical approach to building their companies.
They reflect on their company building experience as being about experimentation, analysis and the consistent application of logic.
Neither is entirely right and neither is entirely wrong.
I can see no discernible pattern of impact or effectiveness in building healthy companies between those two schools of thought.
Company building as craft
This got me thinking about company building as a craft.
As we look around us, how much of the world has been shaped by craftsmen and women from previous generations? Buildings, streetscapes, objects and even the design of many modern day creations carry the imprint of their expertise.
Most definitions of craft feature a combination of creative thinking, requisite skill and methodical application.
That’s a good definition of what it takes to build a sustainable and resilient company too.
Company building strikes me as an undervalued craft in start-up culture.
Why think creatively when you can just roll out what worked at your last employer?
Why bother developing company building skills when LinkedIn promises you a lazy hack for just about anything in business?
Yet the best companies are those where founders have taken a deliberate, considered and mindful approach to building a business.
That’s not to say they can’t grow fast or pivot with agility if that’s what’s needed.
But throughout the rollercoaster of growth they are able to maintain the craft of company building.
Like the master craftsperson, they are intentionally shaping a beautiful, functional and elegant creation: a company that can thrive and grow with a soul of its own, but with the skilful handiwork of its founder evident over many years.
That craft of company building matters in building successful businesses. And so we should pay more attention to how founders can learn that craft too.
By learning from others, surrounding ourselves with their diverse wisdom, and committing to developing our own practice as company builders, we can grow thriving lasting businesses that embody our true craft.