When My Company Hit $100 Million in Revenue, I Realized It Was Time to Become an Employee Again In order to keep growing, I couldn't keep wearing 100 hats.
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In the world of entrepreneurship, we have this firmly-held belief in the power of one: the power of the entrepreneur. Maybe because we all said no to "the man" and left traditional jobs, and somehow this act of turning our back on societal norms gave us an inflated view of our superhuman capabilities.
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Whatever the reason, when you look into the rosy dreams of business owners looking to reach the coveted $100-million mark as a business, rarely do you hear them say, "I can't wait until I reach $100 million in revenue and become an employee in my business again!"
As the CEO of one of the fastest growing, non-VC-backed software companies in the world, the reality of scaling this quickly in three years has forced me to get over myself and realize it's time for me to become an employee once again.
Becoming an employee again
First, let's try to strip away any of the negative association with the word "employee." At its core, employees are people who work for someone else and are told what to do. They hold a distinct position in a company with clearly defined boundaries and roles.
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When you start down the entrepreneurial road, there's almost a spiritual moment for the business owner. Cue the inspiring music and determined face looking off into the sunset. We're alone. We say "see ya" to the man, blow off boundaries of work pay, work time, work location and answering to anyone other than ourselves. It's exhilarating.
As the business grows, the entrepreneur learns what it means to wear at least 100 hats. Again, most of us love it. It's never boring and never the same. We hire people and teams and slowly grow the dream into a dynamic company full of employees. Our dream comes to life and hopefully, the money comes pouring in.
This all works fine until you reach a certain tipping point in customers and revenue.
Alex Charfen, noted entrepreneur and host of the Momentum for the Entrepreneurial Personality Type podcast, recently joined my mastermind for entrepreneurs to impart some wisdom. Little did I know he would say something that would shift my perspective so greatly.
"There comes a time in the entrepreneur's journey when he must become an employee of the business again," Charfen advised my group. "If they don't, the whole thing crumbles."
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I think it's hard to imagine this until you're there, but I am there now. I know that to double or triple revenue again, and to continue to grow, I must build a team that is so good, so talented and so expert at what they do, that they are now telling me what to do.
The 100 hats on my head have come off one by one, and the 8 million things I used to do are now replaced by other people doing them ... often better than me.
What's left on my plate is a clearly defined role. It's my role, and I'm surrounded by a team of people who give sage advice, tell me what to do and when to do it, and together, we carry the company further than any one man or woman can do alone.
So, what can you learn by becoming an employee of your own empire?
Acknowledging the entrepreneur's Achilles' heel
The traits we entrepreneurs possess are so needed in startups: innovation, the ability to think outside of the box, risk taking and letting our creativity run wild.
But, as our business baby grows up, those same traits can hurt and stunt company growth. For example, I have an insatiable need to be creative. If I let this trait run wild and impact the business systems needed to sustain a $100-million company, I will send 50,000 customers and 100 employees down some very expensive rabbit trails.
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When you think of an employee, you see a cubicle, right? Those bland gray walls encapsulating the worker from the noise around him. In a sense, we hate that constraint.
But, if I truly want to explore my creativity in a way that doesn't send the whole company down a road we never intended, I need the boundary of where my creativity starts and ends. And people in place to keep the system going while I do my "job."
It is constraint that frees you to be exactly who you are, and nothing else.
Kissing your ego goodbye
A-players will do the work of 100 B-players. The faster you hire the best people in their respective fields, the more quickly you will grow. For profitable companies where money is not an issue, the only thing standing in the way between you and your incredible team is your ego. The fear of hiring someone who will outshine you.
Ultimately the dream you had the day you left your 9-5 of the sole loner entrepreneur making his way and proving he can be the king of his own domain must die. Give it a funeral and put it in the ground. It served you well and got you to the first leg in the journey.
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The good news is you can replace it with a bigger dream, a better one. Here's a superhero analogy for you: your new dream looks more like Justice League (or the Avengers if you prefer them).
For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, take any great movie with a mission that changes the planet. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings. They all come with a team. And the main person who is at the center? He's the one who needs the most support.
This transition from entrepreneur to employee -- with all its uncertainty and discomfort -- will unleash a new era of creativity, profitability and impact in your business that you could never accomplish without surrendering to the evolution of growth.