To successfully turn an entrepreneurial endeavor into a stable business, leaders must leverage their networks to fill critical skills gaps as the business evolves. Move from starters to transformers to sustainers.

English: my typewriter

Desktone CEO Peter McKay laid this out for me. He described the need to have different people at different stages: starters to prove the technology, transformers to take the technology to market, and sustainers to manage the business on an ongoing basis. The framework is appropriate for smaller organizations and for groups, units, and divisions within larger organizations.

Evolution of Desktone

For those of you that don’t know, Desktone is in the business of virtual workspaces – “applying server virtualization to desktops.” When McKay joined Desktone his challenge was scaling from an entrepreneurial venture to a real, ongoing business.

The company had great ideas for the product, but needed help on areas like “how to go to market.” Their core promise of “Access anywhere” resonated with people looking for the freedom to use any device anywhere. The time was right to accelerate things.

Start with Starters

These are the entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs passionate about their ideas. As Eric Wagner laid out in his article on 7 Traits of Incredibly Successful Entrepreneurs, these people are abundantly curious, creative, and visionary communicators and leaders who love risk and action and are tenacious beyond belief. You don’t want to get in their way as they drive to get the ball rolling. Let them do what they do at the start.

Shift to Transformers

Once the idea or technology is proven, it’s time to go to market. This requires an entirely different set of skills. As McKay explained to me, you need new people, a new approach, a new vision and a new financial model depending upon your route to market. For example, Desktone chose to go to market through channel partners, requiring a completely different approach than would going direct.

This is where you need to leverage your network. As McKay pointed out, the world is full of people who want to help and can help with things like packaging, pricing and market communication. You don’t have to hire and onboard all these people full time for this transformational stage – but you do need to tap into their expertise.

Evolve to Sustainers

The good news about successfully going to market is that you get customers. That bad news is that customers complicate your life. All of a sudden you need things like systems and processes. Entrepreneurs hate systems and processes. Transformers know you have to have them, but find them less fun than transforming things. Thus, the people best suited to manage sustaining systems and processes with the appropriate levels of detail and discipline are different than the starters and transformers.

This is why each phase of building an ADEPT team starts with acquiring and ends with transitioning. As McKay put it, “The world is changing so dramatically, you’ve to stay on top of it.” Change the team as the bus changes if you want to avoid getting run over by your own bus.

This is a good example of step 9 of The New Leader’s PlaybookSecure ADEPT People in the Right Roles and Deal with Inevitable Resistance

Make your organization ever more ADEPT by Acquiring, Developing, Encouraging, Planning, and Transitioning talent:

  • Acquire: Recruit, attract, and onboard the right people
  • Develop: Assess and build skills and knowledge
  • Encourage: Direct, support, recognize, and reward
  • Plan: Monitor, assess, plan career moves over time
  • Transition: Migrate to different roles as appropriate
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