If You Want to Scale, Give the People You Hire Freedom to Succeed
Sean Brown, founder and CEO of GO VC, explains his philosophy for building a business that grows.
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m Sean Brown, founder and CEO of GO VC, a venture capital and early-stage investment company. When I started the business, our earliest investments were in tech startups. We funded marketing, software, and other online-based companies because that’s the world that I came from. But as we’ve grown and new opportunities have appeared, our scope has expanded organically and we’re working with organizations in many different niches and verticals.
What inspired you to create found GO VC?
I’ve been starting businesses and investing in other people’s ideas for well over a decade now, and GO VC was a natural step to take as my personal network grew and various ventures started to gain traction.
I have a background in digital marketing, and my “aha moment” was probably when I realized that the methods and strategies we used to help clients at my agency were even more potent if you applied them within a broader growth and investment framework.
That’s been a real differentiator for GO VC — we don’t just invest capital, we invest the knowledge that we’ve accumulated from our own businesses to help startups succeed.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic and how did you pivot to overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge of the pandemic, especially early on, was the uncertainty and fear that everyone was living with. Most of us, when we go to bed at night, we think we know what the world is going to look like in the morning. But when the pandemic began, that feeling of security was shaken, and it hasn’t fully returned yet in a lot of ways.
On the business side, I didn’t need to pivot too much because we were already comfortable with remote work. Half of my team was already joining our weekly meetings via Zoom, for example, so switching to remote-only wasn’t a big leap. And personally, working remotely gave me more time with my wife and two kids, which was a benefit and a blessing that made any work-related worries fade quickly.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
When we’re considering new investments, the ones that stand out are when there’s a level of passion and personal synergy behind the ideas. The business plan and fundamentals need to be right, obviously, but we get the most excited when someone comes in and we know that we want to work with them, not just invest because the numbers are good.
To translate that into advice, I’d say that entrepreneurs should incorporate the “why” behind the business idea whenever and wherever possible. If we’re going to provide the capital and knowledge you need to help move your organization forward, we want to know that you have a compelling reason to be in this business so you’ll stick it out when adversity strikes.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
It’s kind of funny — I know a lot of people who have created businesses and invested in startups, but none of them have the word “Entrepreneur” on their office door or business card. They’re CEOs, or founders, or consultants, or all of the above.
I think being an entrepreneur is more of a mindset than a job title. It means that you have the freedom and resources to leverage opportunities that others aren’t aware of. It means you’re willing and able to pursue ideas and gaps in the marketplace that others don’t see or wouldn’t consider. And it means you’re willing to take risks when those ideas, and the passion behind them, resonate with you.
What is something many aspiring business owners think they need that they really don't?
A lot of business owners like to keep a close eye on day-to-day operations and tasks, especially those who start small. But that approach really doesn’t scale.
If you bring someone in to manage operations, or accounting, or marketing, you should have the confidence in your own decisions to give them the freedom to do the job you’ve hired them to do.
In my experience, the right people will reward your confidence in them and help your business grow in ways you might not have expected — and you’ll have a better relationship with your teams too.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
There are two sayings that I always circle back to, both for myself and other business owners that I meet with.
The first is to “Trust the timing,” which comes up more often than you’d think. When I encounter a business or investment opportunity, there’s no guarantee that that same offer will still be on the table in a week or a month. I’d rather get the ball rolling now than have to backtrack and rebuild that momentum later.
The second saying, which is almost the flip-side of the first, is “You can’t be afraid to fail early.” No startup or investment is ever a sure thing, especially in the world we’re living in today. This isn’t a new idea for most entrepreneurs, but it’s an absolute must if you’re going to move forward as a business or a brand.