The Founder’s Journey Starts with Self-Evolution

July 6, 2022
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Charismatic personalities and big egos dominate stories about our era’s most influential tech leaders. What you don’t often hear about, though, are the moments of self-doubt—those times where they nearly lost their companies or had to make a significant pivot to survive.

Successfully founding and growing a company is one of the most demanding interpersonal challenges a person can face, particularly if you are one of the few who makes it beyond product-market fit and attempts to master the gauntlet of scale.

An initial bold vision starts as a dream but requires an incredible commitment to personal growth to bring it to fruition. It’s no surprise more than 80% of Series B investments fail.

The leadership issue and opportunity for founders of today’s hypergrowth tech companies is compounded growth. When a company grows at an exceptional pace, the requirements placed on the leader are diametrically accelerated.

Any flaw or undeveloped aspect of the leader’s psyche, interpersonal style, and/or managerial skills will be exposed—and the leader’s ability to adapt to those demands is the ultimate test. Todd McKinnon, founder of Okta, described the process to me as a helix of continuous self-evolution: “You grow yourself, and your company grows. The company grows, and it grows you.” And the cycle becomes virtuous.

A critical element to founder success is embracing the notion of self-evolution and recognizing that personal growth is part of the path. The challenges of growth will stress and stretch you and everyone around you.

Greater self-awareness—along with self-mastery of stress, anxiety, emotional highs, and interpersonal lows—is part of the journey. When founders do not evolve as humans, the cost can be exceptionally high to themselves and those around them.

This is part of a series about the Seven Navigation Challenges of the Founder’s JourneySM. To start the series, read our blog The Founder’s Journey: A Challenge Like No Other. To learn more about the next navigation challenge for founders, read our blog Building Scalable Teams.

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Joanna Starek oversees RHR International’s products and services, marketing, and sales. Prior to her role as chief commercial officer, Joanna honed her skills as a top CEO, executive team, and board consultant to Fortune 100 companies and beyond.