Founder Framework

with Manu Kumar

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Learn Listen Lead

The spirit of leadership

Manu Kumar

Entrepreneur turned Investor, Founder of K9 Ventures, Team & Starting Up Expert

Lessons Learned

The feedback you receive will not be consistent. You need to distinguish the signal from the noise.

Lead by sharing your vision & making your idea something others really care about.

People must feel ownership of an idea to become passionate about it.


Lesson: Founder Framework with Manu Kumar

Step #1 Learn Listen Lead: The spirit of leadership

Ability to learn, listen and lead. These are directed more at founding CEOs. These are three things that founding CEOs need to have. They need to be able to listen because they’re going to get feedback from lots of different sources and the feedback is not going to be consistent. In fact, it's most often going to be divergent feedback. You need to be able to listen to that divergent feedback and figure out what the signal is and what the noise is and then make a judgment call on top of that. Being able to listen and be able to read between the lines is very important in that situation.

The ability to learn and this is again, in the case of where if you don't know something, what's the first thing you do. Do you actually try to hire somebody who knows that area? That's going take a long time. Do you at least try to learn enough about that area to become dangerous, if not, proficient? You can at least speak the language then you can at least actually talk to somebody else who is an expert in that field.

In fact, when I'm thinking this I should just mention some of the examples that are running through my head. When talking about passion and drive, I have a set of founders in my portfolio where the reason they started their company is because they have a child with special needs and they looked around to see all the apps that are available for children with special needs and they realized that all of them sucked. So their passion and their drive comes from them that they have this child and they actually want to build applications for that child. That's one of the most determined entrepreneurs in my portfolio. They have a very personal reason for them to start the company.

It's a mission-driven business. It's not about we want to go out and make millions of dollars. It's more about we want to change the way children with special needs actually learn.

The ability to learn, I have another founder in my portfolio where he's essentially a computer science graduate and the two different companies in my portfolio that have the same story. Coming from a computer science background, having done mostly software, both the companies are now building hardware.

The founder went and learned what they need to learn about building hardware. They're the ones actually hacking firmware, doing PCP layouts, figuring out manufacturing. They had to go and figure all that stuff out. They had to go figure out supply chain, they had to go figure out where do we go and source Bluetooth chips, where can we go and source the right kind of batteries, so figuring out the supply chain, figuring out the manufacturing, figuring all the hardware stuff.

They had no idea how to do any of this stuff when they started. It's just a case where they were willing to go out and learn and build this proficiency within themselves. Part of the reason and I totally agree with this is, if you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself. In this case, you at least need to be able to know what you're doing so that you can then determine whether the people you're hiring are capable or not.

The ability to lead, I want to emphasize that I choose the word “lead” carefully and I did not use the word “manage.” Manage does not work in startups. In a startup you can rarely ever manage people you can only lead people. You have to lead people by actually showing a vision and by getting them to believe that the idea that you want them to work on is something that they deeply care about.

I'll give you an example. In some cases, I've actually helped people start up some companies. CardMunch is a good example. The founders had come to me to pitch an idea and I heard their idea, didn't like it too much, but I really liked the team. In that case, I essentially told them that, "Okay, look I don't like you're idea, but I really like you guys, so let me pitch an idea that you guys might want to work on." That only worked when that idea that I pitched to them became their idea. That's the time when they can take the lead. Because once it becomes their idea, then they can go and motivate other people with it. In a lot of cases, I describe this as inception from the movie.

You have to lead by inception, you have to go and introduce an idea by somebody, but then they have to believe that it was their idea. That's when they become truly passionate about it and they run with it. In most early age startups, doing things by force, essentially saying, "You go do this. You go do this," rarely works. It's more about getting people to take ownership of what they want to build and then working with that.

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