The most important skill for success at a startup

You may have heard of the term “growth mindset” (as opposed to “fixed mindset”). People with a fixed mindset feel they are born with a certain level of ability that can’t change. Those with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their abilities through hard work and effort. People with a growth mindset can increase their intelligence over time while those with a fixed mindset plateau.

I’ve long been an advocate of continuous learning. I enjoy picking up new skills, whether learning new technologies or practicing hobbies. This attitude has helped with my career and is the most important attribute I look for when building out a team. Sure some hard skills are required for a role. But if you have the right foundations, I’m more impressed with what and how you’ve learned. Past performance here IS an indicator of future success!

When I’m hiring someone, I’m looking for someone who will contribute over a period of years. If they don’t enjoy learning, they won’t gain the hard skills in anything yet to be created.

At Expedia, like many large companies, we had a Learning Center with training to help us grow. There were classes and workshops that focused on programming-language specific courses. There were leadership courses that focused on executive presence and decision making. Most managers took some of this training and were supportive of employees taking time for self-development. These helped us perfect our craft and grow in our roles.

But what about in a startup? Given the number of hats early stage employees have to wear, the need for learning is greater. But the structured opportunities and the dedicated time (not the mention the training budgets) aren’t there. How do you make the time to learn and still get everything done? How can I as a CTO and cofounder make sure my team stretches themselves while delivering at the pace that’s needed?

I’ve found that the opportunity lies in knowing that while there is a lot to do in a startup, most of it doesn’t have to be perfect. Many times you just need to get something done so you can learn which direction to take next. Ironically, someone with years of experience at a large company may be less suited to such a task than someone with little prior experience.

There’s a lot that has to be done in a startup, but it doesn’t need to be (and usually shouldn’t be) done perfectly. Therein lies the opportunity for professional growth and learning

At LegUp, I’ve had the opportunity to stand-up a full web application with authentication, data insights, and SEO considerations. I’ve worked on content creation, financial statements, operations, and pitch decks. Our interns with no prior professional experience have written full modules and features. They’ve not only learned end-to-end development but also gained an understanding of how customers use their features.

It’s tempting to spell out exactly how to do a task for my interns , and this is a trap I often see founders fall into. You have a detailed idea of how you would like to see it done, and it seems only natural to make sure it's delivered up to your standards. But as I've advised others,  "perfect is the enemy of good." Not only does this approach not scale, taking too much of your time to direct that level of detail, it also robs others of learning opportunities. Granting this freedom also means that as a manager you have to be open-minded in reviewing and accepting other's work. They don’t have to be perfect; it’s often about just getting something done. And you know what, sometimes I learn something new from their approach myself!

As a startup founder, you have to give your team freedom to learn. It also means you have to be willing to accept a different point of view

If you are a continuous learner, you’ll get the professional development from a startup without structured training. You have to. It’s the only way you and the startup will survive.