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Year 1 Review + 5 Common Startup Challenges From 2022

Since it’s Founder to Leader’s one year anniversary, I decided to do some reflecting on this first year of being open for business. I love quantitative data, so let’s start by looking at last year by the numbers:

2022 by the numbers:

  • This year we’ve coached 126 leaders from

  • 41 biotech or climate tech startups located in

  • 6 countries.

  • In addition: 19 companies have attended our “Management 101” class.

  • We’ve hosted 9 workshops on a range of topics including culture, hiring, goal setting.

  • We worked with 5 different accelerators/funding organizations.

As I spent some time thinking about all of my coaching sessions, I noticed a few trends that surfaced frequently with my clients - most of whom are first-time technical founders.

The 5 most common startup challenges of 2022:

1. Underestimating how much effort it takes to build a high-functioning team.

A lot of founders that I work with are truly surprised when they realize that it’s the human part of running a deeply technical company that’s actually the hardest. People can be complicated and tricky - but they can also blow your mind with their creativity, compassion, and hustle. Great teams do not just happen; they are built deliberately. They take effort. You have to invest in your people to unleash the magic. You have to be intentional and carve out significant time to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

2. Assuming academics will transition easily to startup life.

A lot of clients struggled this year with helping folks transition from academia to startup life. The two pain points that surface most often were: collaboration (thinking and operating like a team) and pace (treating time as one of your most precious resources). It’s helpful to design a hiring process that helps you screen for adaptability. You also want to craft a thoughtful onboarding process so that new talent understands immediately what it looks like to get stuff done on this team. There are lots of systems and structures that can reinforce the importance of teamwork and producing deliverables quickly - like regular manager meetings, 30-60-90 day reviews, and quarterly goal setting. It's important to name your culture - how you want folks to behave - so you can level-set expectations before candidates even apply to join your team.

3. Not investing enough in your co-founder relationship.

It’s really hard to work closely with anyone - especially when the stakes are high and the pace is fast. Some of the healthiest co-founders I’ve worked with spend a great deal of time taking care of their relationship - they talk regularly and are not afraid to unpack issues together to deepen their understanding of each other. They spend time together out of work and know about each other's out-of-work lives. They are vulnerable and talk about things like personal motivations and challenges. They apologize and own up to their own mistakes.

4. Waiting too long to set up systems and structures.

A lot of folks think that you don’t need to formalize a reporting structure or establish a pattern of company communications and meetings until there are 20+ people but that’s not true. I’ve found that even just five people on a team benefit greatly from establishing healthy reporting systems for feedback and alignment. It’s much easier to add talent onto your team if the machinery is already working. Everyone needs a manager to help them be their best selves at work.

5. Being unclear.

I’ve helped quite a few teams successfully navigate conflict and fire people who weren't working out. More often than not, trouble brews when there is ambiguity - when we don’t know who is doing what, when we aren't sure when a deliverable is due, when we're not sure what success looks like, or what is most important right now. It’s essential to over-index on clarity and to proactively invest in alignment efforts. The more you can describe what an A+ looks like in terms of performance and culture, the more likely you are to achieve that vision.

Wrapping up

The New Year is such a great time to look backward for a moment before looking forward. I am awed by the humility of the leaders I work with and am inspired by their desire to build human-first organizations with impact. I wake up every day and am proud to be supporting you all and cheering for your success. I feel tremendous gratitude above all else.

As we head towards 2023, I am so excited to help you all have a healthy and productive year of growing and scaling. At Founder to Leader, we have some incredible new resources to share with you in the months ahead - stay tuned for some exciting updates.

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