Tag Archives: Scaling

Photo by All Bong on Unsplash.

7 books that helped me figure out how to be a better leader as ButcherBox has grown

As ButcherBox has evolved over the past couple of years, one area that I’ve had to work on personally is my development as a leader.

My role, however, changed quite a bit from the early days of the company when Mike and I were quietly building ButcherBox out of Soldier Design’s Harvard Square offices. Now, we have more than 25 employees and deliver our boxes across the country.

As ButcherBox has grown, I’ve also needed to develop. While some aspects of leading larger and more complex teams come naturally — especially since this is my second go-around as a startup co-founder — I’ve learned that there are situations that could arise that my past experiences haven’t prepared me for.

And so, to make sure that I am the best leader I can be for ButcherBox, I did the one thing that everyone should do when there is an experience-gap that needs to be filled: I emailed a couple of people in my network whom I think are really great leaders, and whom I respect, and I asked for their advice. I told them where I am at, where the company is at in terms of growth, and my new responsibilities. The reality was that I needed to grow personally at the same rate as the company.

So they sent me some great feedback, which was helpful. But more importantly, they sent a bunch of book recommendations on how to be a better leader. So I immediately went out and bought seven books on leadership. Many you’ve probably heard of, including classics like Andy Grove’s High Output Management, The Effective Executive, Primal Leadership, and The Charisma Myth. And I kept going from there.

I like to read books. And when I do, I like to take notes in the margins. I always have a pen in my hand. If you look at the books I’ve read, all the corners are folded over, so I can look back, and there are notes on almost every page. I think to get the most out of these types of books, you have to be an active reader.

Here are some of the books that I’ve found have been most helpful as ButcherBox —and me  — continue to grow:

Mindset – This book is focused on the reality that there are two mindsets: A fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. The fixed mindset is exemplified by people who might suck at math in second grade and tell themselves that they will just never be able to get better at it. Individuals with a growth mindset approach the same experience and tell themselves, “I just need to work harder, or learn math in a different way, or get a tutor.”

So I am trying to apply that growth mindset here at ButcherBox, fostering a culture of personal growth versus fixed, which has been interesting thus far.

The One Thing: This is a good example of how I have been able to apply something I’ve read to the culture here at the company.  I read The One Thing,  which both my co-founder Mike and another entrepreneur had recommended. The premise is that if you want to get extraordinary results, you need to spend an extraordinary amount of time doing whatever that one thing is that is going to move the needle. The book delves into the importance of focusing, how multitasking is bullshit, that your inbox is your enemy, the power of habit, and the importance of time blocking.

So I tried to figure out what the “one thing” was for me that really moves the needle at ButcherBox, and then I had to make sure that every day, I blocked out two to four hours to just do that.

My one thing changed. When I read the book five months ago, my one thing was “To get customers.” So, I’d look at what we were doing with our automation email series, and try to figure out how to improve things there, can that move the needle? Then, I looked into what we were doing on the affiliate, the sales side, referral, etc. I’d dive into these and help other team members improve.

But now, my one thing is to develop as a leader, and that can involve me sitting down to read for two hours or reading articles about management or talking to mentors.

We even had the whole marketing team read The One Thing recently, and everyone loved it.

So now we are doing a “one thing” challenge, which is trying to see how many days of the workweek everyone can focus on doing their one thing. It’s been great, but it has been difficult for a lot of people, including myself.

A Guide To The Good Life: This book, which digs into the wisdom of Stoic philosophy has taught me the importance of only focusing on what you can control.

Most of the things that stress us out in life are out of our control, however, we can control our response to these challenges. This book has been helpful in a fast-paced startup environment where new challenges arise daily.

Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth: This is a great book for Internet businesses and shaped our marketing strategy here at ButcherBox.

Unbroken: This Laura Hillenbrand book about Louis Zamperini, a track star and the survivor of a World War II tragedy, is just straight-up inspiring.

Shoe Dog: Phil Knight paints a great picture of the startup roller coaster and how even companies like Nike can start from the humblest of beginnings.

Ego is the Enemy:  This is a great read that teaches you the importance and power of humility. This is key to us at ButcherBox where staying humble is one of our core values.

I hope you get as much out of these books as I have, and I hope you’ll share some of the books that have inspired or helped guide you in business or life in the comments section below.

The growing ButcherBox team.

Now comes the hard part: Developing hierarchy in a growth stage startup

One surprise that you discover when running a business is that success leads to new stages of growth. It is during these moments of scaling an organization that you realize that you need to completely rethink the strategies that got you there.

Often, companies need to be transformed into something wholly different from what they previously were. In most instances when as business needs to “scale,” as they say, the team is likely already behind where it should be in this growth process.

Take, for example, the transition from an early-stage startup to what’s called a growth stage business. This is the period when a small group of founders and early employees have done well enough to need to add more operational constraints on a business. Roles get more defined and holes in the company’s structure get filled.

Without anyone telling you, you need to evolve from a company that values hustling and hard work — all while trying to to find its market and customers — to an organization that needs to maximize both its people and its finances.

The best way to explain this evolution is through one of my favorite allegories to explain how we’ve built ButcherBox so far. The way I see it, building a startup is like a team of adventurers making its way through the jungle towards some group achievement. You have an idea where you are going, but more often than not, you are hacking your way through as best as you know how.

It’s great to work with incredible people at this stage. You are all in it together; someone takes a leadership role for various phases of the expedition, and there are no egos involved. You are all having fun, taking enormous risk together, knowing something great awaits whenever you reach whatever the destination may be.

(This is a little easier if you’ve already done the startup thing once before, as I have as a co-founder of another early-stage venture, CustomMade. But, it’s not a huge advantage if you are also in a vastly different industry. Getting back to the analogy above, it’s like before you have to go off hacking through the jungle, you’re allowed to climb an observation tower to give you a hint about which direction you should start trekking in. But the actual journey is still through new terrain, and, the challenges posed are just as unforgiving.)

And then you do it…You hack your way through the jungle, and you hit a dirt road. And then you realize that now you need a someone to lead those same machete hackers to drive cars to the next destination. You also now need a lot more cars and drivers on that road, and, oh yeah, you need someone to help you fill all these suddenly vital new roles.

While the idea of adding 10 to 20 new employees to an organization may not seem like that overwhelming a task — large corporations do this nearly every day — the implications for small businesses cannot only be disruptive, they can often cripple an organization.

And we’ve seen it happen time and time again.

Right now, we are currently undertaking the task of growing while bootstrapping. This is a dramatically different experience than scaling after taking institutional funding and having a board of directors interested in the day-to-day operations. For one, we are deciding on our own when and how to evolve as an organization; which is a great thing.

Here are a few key things we’ve done to survive to this point:

-We hire for experience. We’ve done this by bringing in key people for important roles as we’ve grown.

-We hire for cultural fit. To do this, the number one quality we screen for in new hires is humility.

-We hire opportunistically. Oftentimes, we take risks on people that others may have passed over.

So now we are at the point where we have been hacking through the jungle for two years, and then…Boom! Now we are on this road that we have to figure out how to navigate.

We need people with different skill sets for some of this growth, and we also need to figure out how to help the team while transitioning to the next level.

For me, the current challenge is adding more “hierarchy” to what has previously been quite successful without having had to focus too much on who stands where in the organization and what roles need to be changed.

There is a lot of nuance to doing this correctly, but I believe that the team we’ve built understands and is ready for this next stage of development for ButcherBox.

I know I’m ready to see where this road takes us from here.