In this Treasure Tuesday, I am sharing a quick but powerful story on this Treasure Tuesday. Can you see yourself in this story? This story is entitled “From Genius Software Developer to Successful Entrepreneur.”
Here is the situation. Joshua (I changed his name for privacy reasons) is a brilliant, genius software developer. He founded a company and took on the CEO role. As things started to take off, he assembled a team. His company grew.
The growth was great – except there was one little problem. The problem wasn’t so little. Everyone depended on Joshua, everybody! That was the case for technical issues and business growth questions. He was the one who cared the most about the business growth. Even though he was technical by training, he knew more about strategic business growth than everybody else.
The technical team is creative and consists primarily of software developers. They’re cutting-edge in the technical domain but needed to see the big picture more clearly. They only see their corner; they see the bits they’re doing. They need line-of-sight. They can’t see from their corner to the next point, to the next point, to the next point. In other words,
- How does the software get used by the customer? What is the customer’s experience?
- How does my daily behavior affect the strategic goals and the company’s bottom line?
Furthermore, many processes and procedures were undocumented. Team members did what they felt was right.
How do companies normally grow? They grow organically! Along with that, they often don’t have written procedures and processes. A lack of accountability results. That was certainly the case there, too.
Then, a mutual friend called me on a warm afternoon. I was sitting in my office, and he said, “You guys need to talk.” He introduced us. He told me, “You are a geek, and he’s a geek, and you’ll get each other.”
Asking Joshua These Critical Questions
We connected and started talking. I asked Joshua
- What do your people ask you about the most?
- What do they need you for?
- What is the biggest demand on your time?
- What is the most pressing thing you want to offload?
I asked many questions, and we decided on a place to start. At that time, one pressing difficulty was explaining the software more to prospective customers. Since it was pretty complex, we had to create a quick and simple explanation instead of a longer one. We asked, “Who is the recipient of this explanation?” We discovered that the people who helped their bosses decide whether to buy the software were far less cutting-edge than the developers at Joshua’s company. In hindsight, that is not surprising, but it is an important recognition.
Together, we created a company portal. We started with a simpler, succinct course for prospects. By now, we have created six courses.
- Some of them are aimed at customers.
- Some are aimed at the internal team.
- Some are aimed at partners that help scale this company because they need configuration and customization of their software.
Nobody Is Put In Some Kind Of “Cage”
We also worked on the culture. Some of the courses were about procedures and policies. That included information about
- Which tools should you use and which you cannot use?
- What is the process to ask whether a new tool could be introduced to the array of tools you can use?
As we did that, we worked with the team and made sure the team didn’t feel like, “Oh my gosh, now we’re being put into this little cage, and we can’t do anything creative, and we’re just told what to do all day long.“
We made sure the team saw the big picture and why these “rules” were important and asked for their input. This process created the buy-in Joshua needed from his team.
Guiding Joshua’s Team To Seeing The Big Picture
We’ve also raised accountability. Again, we helped the team to see the big picture. We help the team members understand that it’s not just about programming the software.
- You have to understand and get a feel for what the end user will do with this software.
- What’s the customer experience?
- How will my daily behavior impact the bottom line and the company’s longevity?
- How will my daily behavior impact the maintainability of the product?
We helped the team understand these critical questions, realizing they were not part of their normal training before working at Joshua’s company.
The approach worked. The team started to understand more of the big picture and gain a line-of-sight, i.e., the connection between how each person went about their daily work and the result. That understanding impacted the behavior in a significant way.
Typically, when you introduce your team to the big picture, most people love it. That was the case at Joshua’s company, too. The occasional person who doesn’t love it will probably sift themselves out over time.
Joshua’s Team Experienced The Benefits Of Brilliance Mining
We also trained Joshua’s people on the benefits of Brilliance Mining™. They understood:
- We share and document our knowledge here.
- We get to pass it on to others without fear of becoming dispensable.
- Junior people get trained more quickly and get to develop their careers faster.
- More senior people get to offload tasks that are not the best use of their time.
- We pay attention to staying at the cutting edge, which means we are giving people time to be creative and innovative instead of resorting to outdated “spoonfeeding” training techniques.
The result was more job satisfaction. Also, Johusa’s company was now in a far safer position. If a person leaves, they won’t leave a big knowledge hole in the company.
The important thing is to make sure that everyone on the team understands that this is good for everyone. It isn’t just that select people get to extract and systematize their knowledge, experience, and wisdom (aka brilliance). They get to lean back and do nothing while the others are toiling away. No, that’s not how that is.
Usually, we start Brilliance Mining™ with the owners or founders. In this case, it was Joshua, the genius software developer who was the company’s founder and CEO. He needed to gain enough breathing room to think about all the other things he needed to do to bring the company to the next level of success. That, of course, was critical for everybody.
Then as you look at the team, you have the more senior developers, and they can share some of the wisdom. With the resulting training system, you can bring the junior developers up to speed much faster with greater consistency. You can also increase cross-training and support people to be more useful across different projects. That means you are securing their jobs and fostering their opportunities. Professional and personal development is ultimately what people want.
Brilliance Mining Honors The People On Your Team
Brilliance Mining is a way to honor your people. That makes a big difference, too, because people are more than just there for the money. Of course, they’re there for the money, but they’re there for personal and professional development, for feeling like they’re being valued.
It’s saying to someone, “Hey, you know what? You are valuable enough for your brilliance to be pulled from your head and put into the system.”
That would be cool, especially if you established the right kind of culture around that. To say to a junior person, “Hey, we are going to bring you up the learning curve so much faster because we got many more opportunities for you waiting, and we want you to get there faster.”
Now, what impact could this strategy have on your company? It worked wonders for Joshua’s company.
The Financial Result
Within a year, the company doubled its revenues. When you look at the valuation, it is even better because we estimate that the valuation went up by a factor of about five.
Let’s think about that.
- When you think about selling your company someday, it doesn’t even work when key knowledge is just in a few people’s heads. That is especially true if the knowledge is in the head of the owner who wants to sell the company.
- Imagine how tragic it would be if Joshua learned he could not sell the company. He may have to work for the new owner for a couple of years to transition all that knowledge into someone else’s head or set of heads. Then you go from being a successful entrepreneur back to being an employee. I’ve seen that, and it’s dreadful.
Joshua’s story shows how this genius software developer became a successful entrepreneur. The story includes the steps he took to grow and scale his business. Simultaneously, it prepared him for a successful exit. An exit where he gets paid well, without having to work for the new owner after the sale to transition knowledge.
As a recovering Ph.D. chemist who’s grown up as a technical geek, working with Joshua was a gigantic triumph.
How could this play out in your world? I would love to hear that. Drop me a line.
P.S.: I appreciate you commenting and sharing this Treasure Tuesday with others. Thank you!