Blog Post

Head, shoulder, foot!

Most founders think about complementing technical or business skills when they build their intial team. Fewer think about the emotional components required to marshal the operation to success. When we started “Altos Research”:, a great entrepreneur (my Mom, as it turns out) gave me the following advice about the emotional side of building a business: *Every entrepreneur needs a head, a shoulder, and a foot.* (If these don’t sound like “emotional” componenets, hear me out.)

*The Head is the person who gives you your strategic guidance.*
The independent voice with whom you discuss the business, the options, and the best tactics for reaching your goals. I have a group of advisers that I turn to regularly: VC friends who are not investors in my company are particularly valuable. Other successful entrepreneurs provide unbiased insight — “Don’t budget for better than 5:1 sales comp ratio, Mike.” Your Head needs to be a person who just gets it. *Someone who helps you think bigger and better.* Someone who you don’t have to educate or sell. Someone who wants you to succeed.

*The Shoulder is the person you lean on when times are tough.*
Every founder lives through the down-cycles and self-doubt. Your Shoulder says, “You’ll pull through it. Your product is so amazing!” Most of the time *your Shoulder can’t be an employee or investor.* Employees and investors need to see you as indefatigable. Your spouse may not be your Shoulder either. My wife does not want to hear that I’m worried about making the mortgage payment. The Shoulder is a rare kind of advisor, *usually someone very close, even family, but with little actually at stake in your business.* The Shoulder simply knows you can’t fail.

*The Foot is the one who kicks you in the ass when you need it.*
For me this is the role my wife takes. She is the one I can’t let down. When we started the company, she set a deadline for our firm to have revenue — or I’d have to go get a job. We made that deadline, and now it’s part of our routine to keep her appraised of the sales growth. She lets me know if my targets are too low. The Foot is often the best role for your VCs, if you have a good relationship with them: “You showed me your plan, go make your numbers!” (But, if you have a lousy or confrontational relationship with your VCs, then the investor-driven-numbers game can devolve into meaningless bs, so watch out.) At Altos Research, we have no outside investors, so my wife is the non-employee with the most at stake. She is the Foot, *the person who won’t let me slow down long enough to fail.*

The trick is to know the people around you who are best for each role. Maybe that’s why having multiple founders can be advantageous. My co-founder is an excellent Head for me. We can make sweeping strategic decisions in minutes. I have to go outside the company for the other body parts.

*Just don’t expect your Shoulder to contribute to big strategy decisions.*

*Don’t expect sympathy from your Foot.*

One Response to “Head, shoulder, foot!”

  1. I like the analogies! Good wisdom. I often think about “arms and legs”. I have to much on my plate and I need “arms and legs” that I can trust to execute some of these task intelligently and free up my time.}