An industry viewpoint with Maureen Taylor and Renn Vara, founders of SNP Communications
Renn and Maureen are the co-founders of SNP Communications. The company
provides content, coaching and creative services to the leaders of some of the world’s most successful businesses including Airbnb, Spotify and Transferwise.
They started SNP in 1992, so they’ve seen multiple incarnations of the global tech industry, positive and negative, and apply this knowledge to new Founders and early stage ventures as well as more established tech companies.
One of the areas they’ve had a load of experience with, and exposure to, is keeping the positive dynamic of founding teams together when new execs are hired.
An early-stage business isn’t just a business, it’s a personal challenge
As a result, an early-stage business is usually an all-encompassing affair for the Founders and often comes with great sacrifice.
So it’s understandable that when a Founder brings a Game Changer into the fold, it can be tricky to adjust and make the most of the upside: someone with raw enthusiasm and exceptional levels of intrinsic motivation, alongside someone with extensive experience, sector knowledge and drive to succeed.
The first thing that Renn and Maureen noted is that, as a Founder, you have a responsibility towards self-care. No one else is going to take care of you, and you can’t take care of your team if you’re not taking care of yourself first. This is the most fundamental of all Founder/Game Changer relationships: each person needs to be kind to themselves first and make decisions that serve them.
In practical terms this translates to a number of things, including being honest with yourself and the people around you about what you want, understanding your intrinsic motivations and drivers and trying to service them wherever possible and, perhaps most importantly, being kind to yourself when you can’t figure out what to do – no one can know everything, and no one can see clearly over the horizon.
Once this part is taken care of, it’s about finding the balance between the Founder and Game Changer that allows the qualities of each to flourish.
Being a founder of a company is a fact. Being an employee of a company is a position…
The Game Changer needs to respect the commitment that has been made by the Founder, and navigate around that.
One of the clearest examples of this is the ability to give choices rather than saying no. If a Founder wants to take a direction or build a product that the Game Changer thinks is high-risk, it’s the Game Changer’s responsibility to use their experience and knowledge to guide the Founder through the potential outcomes rather than saying ‘no’ and risking damaging the enthusiasm, drive and vision of the Founder.
For example, a Founder wants to include “Deliver product feature A” that the Game Changer doesn’t agree with. The Game Changers responds with “OK, sure, but I think it’s worth considering the risks of taking that decision”.
Discussion rather than direction is key
Game Changers and Founders work best together when they’re great at communicating with one another. It can be a tendency of very experienced business leaders to be directive – they’ve spent the majority of their careers in corporates, learning how to direct other people, so it makes sense.
But the relationship between Founders and Game Changers isn’t directive. Game Changers are helpful in early-stage businesses when they’re collaborators rather than leaders. And to collaborate, the ability to discuss the most pressing issues is absolutely key.