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How do you CEO? / Lauren Humphrey @ Mintable
A learning journey of how startup CEOs work.
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#13 Lauren Humphrey / CEO @ The Mintable
How do you CEO?
For me, CEO has been a shape-shifting title.
Every month my cofounder and I write out and prioritize the jobs to be done in order for the business to succeed.
What can I best do with my skills? And Mel with hers?
What can the team handle best?
Are we missing critical skill sets or bandwidth anywhere?
In this way, each month, I redefine my role. And my role as CEO has evolved dramatically.
At the start, it was all about
(1) solve the problems of our customers myself (train managers) and
(2) get in front of the right people to do so (sell HR on manager training).
Once Mel joined full-time, I went on a product discovery journey. I walked away with heaps of user feedback and unique insights. Next, my job transitioned to convincing investors that we had a very special insight about managers that was worthy of product development and investment to go build it.
Once we raised the seed round, I had to refocus again: "What's the right talent to achieve our goals?". I became a full-time recruiter. Most recently my job has transitioned to helping our team members do the best work of their lives, especially figuring out what we will NOT do.
Through all of these transitions, my role has also meant taking on much of the stuff that nobody is yet responsible for - Chief ‘Keep The Lights On’ Officer.
How do you set strategy?
That is on my mind all the time. To be honest, I let strategy slide for a bit to execute and now I’m back on it again.
I'm constantly absorbing data - team, customers, mentors, books, internet - but haven’t been making enough time to synthesise and share. I also realised that while we need to focus when it comes to execution, I was too much in the weeds and too small in my thinking on strategy.
I've started setting aside deep thinking time and have been trying to consciously get out of the business altogether - e.g. going for a swim at 3pm and taking a vacation. I also rejigged how I communicate with investors and set up more touch points with them to get outside perspective.
I spend a lot of time writing my thoughts down too. If nothing else, my writing skills have improved 1000x since I became a founder. The need to communicate is so frequent and important, especially since our team is global and fully remote.
My most recent strategy writing included:
High-level strategy with vision and how we will impact customers looking 5 years ahead
Problems we’re solving and why they are important
Set horizon targets that came from speaking with investors and advisors to chart a path to Series A
Articulation of approach in key parts of the business
Scorecard for the business that we’ll review monthly with the team and investors, including revenue, product, customer experience, and runway
How do you communicate the strategy?
We have a weekly 30 mins All-Hands and once a month the All-Hands is 60 mins for big topics like sharing strategy. As I mentioned, I also invest in writing stuff down and making it easily accessible in an internal Confluence.
The reality is that we evolve our approach constantly - that’s the competitive advantage at this stage. So Mel and I also spend time making sure we have the right touchpoints and communication channels with the right people.
How do you set goals?
We’re die-hard goal-setters, yet this stage of start-ups makes goal-setting tricky!
Being in the 0-to-1 phase, there aren’t always obvious metrics or milestones. Other times, we know what we want to measure but don’t have the systems set up or access to data.
So, I look at benchmarks and best practices of similar businesses. I ask investors and other founders for their advice. And often, we pick a metric that’s good enough and start wading into things. It’s too painful to stay on the wrong metric for long.
Coming from more mature scale-ups, right-sizing goals and measurement periods has become an important practice. It’s more important to be clear on the problem we’re solving and then set the right kind of goal. This can mean different cadences - some teams work off quarterly OKRs, others towards monthly goals and product on 2-week sprints.
Last but not least - the team’s buy-in is key! I try to invest in problem definition, sharing context, and setting priorities. And then let the team tell me where we can get to.
How do you communicate sensitive information?
We’re a small company so we’re pretty transparent.
But unchecked transparency becomes a burden.
Here are some principles I follow to toe the line:
I ask myself - will knowing information help or hurt the team? If helpful, is there a particular lesson or takeaway that should be emphasized?
Share information in concentric circles - start with who must know and will have the right context and then progress through the team. If you define comms circles in advance, it makes it easy to communicate something urgently
Leverage “canaries” - share information with people you trust to give you honest perspective and questions before sharing with the full team
When someone leaves, I will never say it was our decision to let someone go unless they acted against our values
Any other advice for CEOs?
It is such a weird time of uncertainty.
We feel it.
Our customers and team members are feeling it.
I keep coming back to something I picked up a long time ago:
“I can only ever do the next best thing.”
No matter how crazy things are or how many mistakes I’ve made leading up to a given moment, I can always figure out the next best thing to do. And that’s all I can do in the next moment.
This might seem like the obvious thing for me to say, but the other piece of advice: invest in people management.
I know how to be a good manager, yet it is so hard as a founder!
I’ve had to lead marketing, engineering, data science, finance, and design.
I’m so out of my depth.
And yet, great management amplifies all talent.
Ironically, I’m constantly returning to what we practice and teach at The Mintable.