May 2024

How first-time digital leaders get plenty of resources and then fail

She had a plan, she had the resources, but she couldn't see the problem. A story of growth stagnation, aiming for the "perfect" product, and Belka founder's tips to skip the very same mistakes.
Giulio Michelon
Founder, Belka

Once upon a time there was a fresh-faced leader of a tech company.

The company was often chaotic and messy —but with a focus on meeting user needs, it was growing. The leader had a vision for even more growth, charisma for days and a great team. She knew she could pull the rabbit out of the hat to get the resources she needed.

After months of hard work, she did it. 

She finally received a substantial amount of resources to develop the business. Great!

And that's when the trouble began.

She started an ambitious refactoring: "Let's restructure the entire product. I finally have the resources to do everything properly! This product will be glorious, exactly how I imagined it." She started a hiring spree for the product team, confident in her plan.

Caught in her ambitious product vision she oversaw monitoring business metrics, crossing every possible "t" and dotting every "i" on the product, losing sight of the whole picture. 

She was completely in love with the product — and that’s why she forgot about the market. The product was being steered in the wrong direction and she just couldn’t see it.

As a consequence, user acquisition growth started to stall. Why did she end up neglecting the business?

Treat success with caution

Being unable to notice life threatening problems often happens after a "big success" event. And how could I blame leaders for that? 

As a new founder, manager or any other leader, securing precious resources after months of pain, compromise, budgeting and forced optimism is, at last, the signal you were looking for. 

It's both a confirmation and a relief.

The trouble starts when these fresh new leaders think they have figured everything out. The whole business — not just the product! — still needs care.

Manic focus on the product is just one of the most common symptoms after a "big success". Other symptoms might be shiny new company headquarters, a retreat to a fancy location, sponsoring the Dallas Cowboys, or hiring a famous personality for the advisory board.

What all these initiatives have in common is this: they are secondary. They are disconnected from the user. They're linked to a single and often unpredictable event — the acquisition of resources and dreams of the leader —  and not by repeatable and reliable business from customers.

The leader stops aiming for real results.

That's a shaky foundation you do not want to build upon.

"I told you so!"

The most heartbreaking thing that I observed in this scenario is that the leaders in this story are often well advised of the danger.

They heard feedback from their employees, by consultants, board members and maybe their mum too. But they decided that finally securing resources means that they are always right, even when they're not. 

I've met dozens of leaders in my career and the successful ones all have this same trait: they ask questions and they listen carefully. They ruthlessly fish for feedback, especially from people with experience in the field. When they secure the resources to drive forward, they use feedback to carve out the shape of their company.

So, the question is, who are you not listening to?

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Hey! Share your positive or constructive feedback with Giulio. You can drop him an email or message him via LinkedIn. He will be happy to hear from you.

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