Leadership Culture in a Startup

All entrepreneurs understand that running a startup operation is one of the most challenging circumstances anyone can find themselves in business or in the non-profit space. The proverbial "building the plane while you're flying it" phrase is often thrown out there to describe the frenetic pace at which entrepreneurs are expected to operate, successfully.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20 percent of startup companies fail within the first year. Meanwhile, 50 percent of startups fail in their fifth year. Those are pretty daunting figures for entrepreneurs seeking to “cut the cord” and build their own companies. And not surprisingly, one of the top three reasons why startups fail is related to poor management. More specifically, many of these firms that fail do so because their cultures are broken.

We had a chance to sit down with two serial entrepreneurs on the OVP Leadership Podcast this summer to get a sense of how they apply their leadership talents to building a new team of collaborators in a startup environment. Shoaib Shafquat is founder and CEO of QCheque Corp. in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Al Pacha is the company's Chief Technology Officer. They shared important lessons about being an effective leader in newly established cultures that are changing daily.

Shoaib Shafquat, Founder & CEO of QCheque Corp.

Shoaib Shafquat, Founder & CEO of QCheque Corp.

Often times, people that have great ideas believe that their ideas will develop into operating companies. But the reality is that having a great idea is merely the first step. If you an entrepreneur is looking to sustain his or her business beyond the five-year mark, they have to be very deliberate about the culture they are building. Being so intentional about one’s culture - beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s management and employees interact - is one of the most obvious ways outside stakeholders can assess the value and potential sustainability of a company, often for the purposes investment.

Both men have started companies on their own, and have been asked to participate in other startup ventures in the past. With QCheque both men are bringing their expertise in banking and information technology, respectively, to offer a new fintech product that they hope will revolutionize the payments segment of the financial services market.

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Leader Lessons: Telling Authentic Stories

Distinguishing your offerings in a marketplace can be a difficult undertaking when you see how many options for consumers. The areas of advertising and marketing are notorious for coming up with tried and true ideas that often look very familiar.

But finding your lane is one of the most satisfying feelings any business person can experience. It's the kind of gift you wish upon anyone that is trying to make it as an entrepreneur.

Jerald “Jaz” McBride, Founder & Creative Director of Adwater Media.

Jerald “Jaz” McBride, Founder & Creative Director of Adwater Media.

Jerald "Jaz" McBride, Founder & Creative Director of Adwater Media in Detroit has found his lane. His company has been around for a decade and is working with some significant brands around the world. We spoke with Mr. McBride on the OVP Leadership Podcast about his journey, what his goals are and how his authentic story as a young business owner has led him on a path of success.

Adwater Media’s client list is a formidable one. Whether his team is on location in London or working with a major automaker in Detroit, McBride’s focus is on delivering for his customers. And to deliver effectively, he has to be able to tell the right stories for the brands he is charged with representing. And making sure that your team is on the same page can sometimes be a challenge.

But McBride’s philosophy of leadership is to be consistent with employees and customers. He stresses the importance of communicating in the language that people prefer, without having to compromise his own authenticity as a creator and curator of experiences.

“Treating every single client the same… is really important,” McBride said. “You want to make sure your consistent with all of your clients.”

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Riding the Wave of a Blue-Ocean Strategy

Healthy living and exercise are good business. But in today’s marketplace differentiation in the physical fitness arena is a significant challenge.

Crossfit, as a movement and business model, has developed a Blue Ocean Strategy to create a widely successful exercise trend that has been difficult to duplicate or compete against over the last decade.

According to internationally acclaimed business professors and authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, a Blue Ocean Strategy is the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand. It is about creating and capturing uncontested market space, thereby making the competition irrelevant. Locally run affiliates have popped up around the world with varying degrees of success. But, one unique leadership niche within that Crossfit marketplace has been the role of women owners, trainers and coaches.

Recently, we sat down to talk about entrepreneurialism and leadership with Hillary Herring owner of CrossFit InnerStallion in Southfield, MI. On this edition of the OVP Leadership Podcast, Hillary shares her perspective on being an African-American business owner, a leader and role model for other aspiring female business owners to grow an idea into a successful operation. Listen, comment and subscribe!

CF Inner Stallion owner & entrepreneur Hillary Herring.

CF Inner Stallion owner & entrepreneur Hillary Herring.

CF Inner Stallion Headquarters in Southfield, Michigan

CF Inner Stallion Headquarters in Southfield, Michigan

Leading with Vulnerability

Leadership challenges are more complex today than ever before. 

In roles as a CEO, CFO and now as a management consultant with OVP Management Consulting Group, I have been exposed to a diverse range of organizations, teams and critical challenges. Collectively, these experiences have contributed to the person and business leader I am today.

Occasionally colleagues and newer leaders alike ask me for my perspective on leadership. When they do, I’ve noticed that even as they are faced with a multitude of complex workplace issues, trying to figure out how best to show compassion and vulnerability with people is difficult.

In her new Netflix special Brené  Brown: The Call to Courage, leadership expert and author Brené  Brown talks extensively about the need for vulnerability and courage in leadership. These meta-skills sometimes go counter to traditional problem-solving models. But, I’ve found that they are indispensable for any leader of people.

Pam Hill, Senior Management Consultant

Pam Hill, Senior Management Consultant

Today, I want to share a few of the greatest leadership lessons I have learned throughout my career.

  • Put difficulties into perspective

    Adversity is inevitable. Challenges, setbacks, disappointment, criticism – you won’t be able to avoid these for long. So when you fail, fail fast. Capture the lessons, devote time to continuous learning so that your knowledge and skills remain relevant, and move forward.  

  • Ask for help

    I was not especially open to help in my career when first starting out. I didn’t want to impose on others. I didn’t want to appear weak. But it finally dawned on me that by letting people help me, I would be giving them the gift of feeling helpful. Beyond the value of the help I received, they would shift from bystanders to engaged investors in my success.

  • Everyone can help you learn something

    It  goes without saying that everyone has their own style of leadership and personal brand. , with tools that can be leveraged across many roles. Observing how others handle themselves – peers, management, and other external leaders – and complementing these with the core competencies in our toolkit, is a great way to approach new experiences. 

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In each of these examples, leaders are forced to confront levels of vulnerability that can challenge one’s concept of being a real leader. What I have found, however, is that confronting discomfort in the workplace can result in greater group understanding and often better results.

Leadership is a constant assessment and reevaluation, so the more you can leverage your transferable skills and learn from the experiences of others – good or bad– the better off you’ll be when you’re positioned to make the decisions.

Much like scaling a mountain, leading with vulnerability and courage requires the ability to focus, assess and then climb. You may not know where you’ll find the next tow-hold. But when a new opportunity is presented to add value in larger capacity or different way, you won’t underestimate yourself, and you’ll make that move.

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