“Oh, you’re the Apple guy! You must know everything!”
That was the (unspoken) attitude that seemed to be everywhere when I walked in the door here at Scrollmotion, an 8-year-old “startup” I joined 18 months ago as CTO.
Of course, as great as I look in a pair of tights, I am not Superman. I am just an engineer from Jersey. But because so much of the business world is run by Apple fanatics, the fact that you worked at Apple makes you some kind of nerd Wayne Gretzky; jobs and opportunities come your way that seem out of scale to your experience. After all, until I got here I was basically an upper-middle manager, running enterprise mobile app strategy at Apple, where I worked for six years. I helped businesses of all sizes build beautiful apps. Not bad for a guy in his mid-30s, but I wasn’t exactly hanging with Tim Cook and Jony Ive.
Now, after barely a year–combined–as our CTO and President, I am Scrollmotion’s CEO. And getting my $%&^ together as a CEO in NYC has involved jettisoning many of the things that were drilled into me in Cupertino.
Here are five ways I am letting go–and holding on:
Accept less than your best
Apple is packed with perfectionists and I was one of them. But when I got to Scrollmotion, I soon realized that standard was unattainable in the near term. At a small company that needed to be agile and ship code constantly, my Apple-y obsessions were creating extra work we didn’t have the time or money to do. And it turns out that the market doesn’t always demand ultra-perfection. Outside of Apple, 70 percent or 80 percent of the ideal can be enough. At least for now.
Learn to find–and hire–horizontal talent
Apple hires the best people in the world. But almost no startup can do that. I have had to embrace the idea of hiring young, still-formative talent and helping them learn how to think about their work. That UX designer? Guess what? Tomorrow she may need to design your Facebook ads. That front end developer? Time to turn your attention to the back end, my man. In the short term, it can be painful, but over time you will find yourself with an adaptable team that knows your product inside out. And once you can afford to hire those super-specialized folks, you can get your product the last 20 or 30 percent of the way.
Use poverty creatively
Because of the company’s near-death experience back in the late 90s, Steve Jobs ran Apple like it was going out of business tomorrow. At a startup, financial constraints can be even more brutal. But they can also be liberating. Use your budget, or lack thereof, to set priorities and define what your product can be at any given time. At Scrollmotion, we launched our Ingage software knowing full well that there were lots of features still to add, and that we might even lose some customers as a result. But we shipped the product we could afford to make at the time.
Don’t be Scarface…
Paranoia isn’t a good look–and it will kill you at a small company. When I first got to Scrollmotion I was running it on lockdown, like we were building an Apple prototype. But that created problems. I eventually realized that the small stuff actually doesn’t matter here. If something leaks out, hey, maybe someone will learn about us and become a customer.
…Except when you have to be
You will rarely see me with a beer in my hand at company events. I have made compensation, options, and other financial details of the company more opaque, not less. I am constantly managing perceptions. Whether you are a man or a woman, as CEO you are not one of the boys. It is, as Ben Horowitz once put it, “a lonely job.” And no, the board doesn’t want to hear about your problems. They want you to solve them. So, shut up and deal.
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