The 5 MVPs of Growth-Stage Start-Ups

We all want A players for every role, right? But in today’s competitive market for great talent, the hard question is not whether we want A players but who, specifically, we are willing to go above and beyond to recruit, to pay and to retain. With finite budgets, finite time and finite resources – who’s most valuable? By definition, MVPs are rare and extraordinarily difficult to replace. MVPs are not in specific roles, specific geographies or specific functional areas. They are personas, or types of individuals that contribute 10x their peers to the business – worth every $ spent or extra hour spent recruiting and retaining. These are the true MVPs in a growth-stage business:

  • Leaders, not Managers: Good managers abound, but great leaders are rare. You know them because they build fiercely loyal and functional organizations – consistent with mission and goals. People move between companies, just to work with them, and stick with them through tough times. They are the ones that come first on your lifeboat test (if i had to order people on a lifeboat, who would i pick first, second, third…). Other people say, “I am here because of Person X.” They reach people deep in their hearts and souls and you need them to do great things.
  • Closers: It’s not likely that the generators of your business are evenly distributed. Some group of people are disproportionately responsible for your revenue. They do it over and over again. You count on them for the deals that drive big quarters and big years. They chart uncharted territory – close the large deals in your company’s history, or the most volume, or open new markets. Closers are not always sales people (but often are). Sometimes they are the product person who comes in at the end to close the deal, the sales engineer that “really” won the account or the customer success exec that retains and builds on a large account. The lifeblood of growth businesses is revenue growth and they are the lynchpins of that growth.
  • Deep Thinkers: There are tons of smart people in the world, but very few non-linear, deep thinkers. Deep thinkers simply see the world in a different way. They take a product problem and find a solution that no one else thinks of. They engineer around serious obstacles. You go to them for feedback on a problem – and they have 5 crazy ideas. 80% might be worth ignoring, but the 20% are the difference between mediocrity and greatness. They see around the next corner. They are often a pain in the ass – raising uncomfortable questions. They make you think. Embrace them.
  • Culture Carriers: I believe culture is super important but it is not the definition of the culture that’s hard, it is the operationalization and scaling that’s hard. And culture carriers are the ones that bleed the Company mission, values, stories and history. They sign up for initiatives beyond their job. They call out, no matter how junior they are, violations of the culture. They find new ways to innovate on that culture. They believe in the tribe and they fight to maintain its authenticity. They are force multipliers for everyone else. And if closers feed the body, culture carriers are its heart. Remember, everyone else joins your company because of what they create.
  • Execution Machines: Most start-up work is about execution. The ideas and the strategy are hard, but ultimately a small fraction of the work. Execution in a growth stage business is super hard. For BloomReach it means executing across geographies, product lines, segments and verticals. And it’s made harder because everything changes so fast at the growth stage. Thus, success relies on the small group of people who just GSD. Great executors are rare. They get everyone else to buy-in and fall in line. They are great communicators, great organizers and when they take on something – no matter how difficult – it just simply gets done.

I don’t believe in the star culture, I believe everything is about teams. But I do believe there are often a small group of people who keep it all together, allowing businesses to scale beyond early saplings to grow to behemoths. MVPs eat functional and domain expertise for breakfast – because those skills are often abundant and finite in value. They may not be balanced individuals, but they add extraordinary value somewhere. The rarest have more than one “MVP quality.” Sometimes, MVPs can get toxic. In those cases, the team always wins and they need to go. But otherwise, treat them like the MVPs they are.

Advice to CEOs and other leaders: Know your MVPs and build real relationships with them. No matter how big your company gets, how many people work for you, and what the seniority of the individual – if you see a MVP in the wild, recruit them like your Company’s life depends on them. Because it probably does.

Image from Tom Brady by immersive education JS licensed under CC by 2.0

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