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Brain circuits

Do you know when it’s time to seek outside help?

Published 10 November 2022 in Brain circuits • 4 min read

Startups go through all sorts of growing pains as they attempt to scale up. While there is no way to guarantee success, there are certain things great leaders do to give their companies a better chance of winning. One of these things is knowing when to humble yourself and ask for help to move the company to the next level. Consider what stage your organization is at and ask yourself the following questions to see if it might be time to accept that someone else may be better at certain tasks, and perhaps you should be sharing power and decisions.

Is it time for your company to redesign your product for scale?

Once you have found the holy grail of product-market fit with your ideal target customers, it will be time to redesign the product for high-volume manufacturing or the service for speed and efficiency.

If you answered yes above, have you ever done this before?

We all take on new endeavors at some point, and we are novices when we start, but this may not be the best time to start a new learning curve. As speed is part of this process, this may be a good time to be humble and recognize you may benefit from someone else’s experience.

Are your team members waiting for you to make decisions?

Before you answer this, you may want to ask them. Sometimes leaders can lack awareness when they have taken on so much and become the limiting factor in the company. While startup CEOs have to wear all sorts of hats during the initial stages of a company, it is important to pay attention to when it is time to delegate tasks to others. If you have hired great people, they are probably waiting for you to delegate more decisions to them; they may even be pushing you for it! So don’t wait too long – either you’ll slow your company’s growth, or you’ll lose good people.

Would a more seasoned executive accelerate your progress – or slow it down?

Just like knowing when to bring an outsider on board is important, it is also necessary to recognize when not to do so. If you bring in an outsider, are they going to have a time-consuming learning curve to understand your technology and processes? Will hiring such a person hurt the morale of your founding team?

Why haven’t you asked for help already?

You probably cannot answer this question yourself. It may be because it’s difficult to admit that you are not the expert in everything. It may be because you want to put up an image of invincibility and infallibility to your team, investors, and customers. Or perhaps it’s simply because you are so busy with the day-to-day challenges and opportunities that you don’t have time to consider it. Take the time.

The answers to these questions can often be harder than they seem on first blush. Have these types of discussions with your founding team as the company grows so you can all stay aligned. And remember, it’s okay to make mistakes. At least some part of your business is something that no one has done before, and you’ll need to experiment. All experiments give us data, but they don’t always go the way we’d hope. Action leads to insights more often than insights lead to action – so ask the questions above, try new things, and consider how asking for help might help you to scale.

Further reading: 

How to scale: Seven qualities of successful scale-up CEOs by Jim Pulcrano



Jim Pulcrano

Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship and Management

Jim Pulcrano is an IMD Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship and Management. His current projects include teaching in Lausanne, London and Silicon Valley, research on disruption, and various strategy, networking, customer-centricity, and innovation mandates with multinationals in Europe, Asia, and the US.


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