By Andrew McConnell
A good friend, father and fellow CEO recently suggested that for one of my startups and parenting pieces, I write about the commonalities between potty training a toddler and building a business. I thought it was a great idea, and told him I would work on it.
Then, nothing. The more I thought about it, the harder it seemed to draw parallels between my experiences on those two fronts. And then, inevitably around 3 a.m. one Saturday morning -- when I found myself unable to fall back asleep because I was thinking about my company -- I realized why I was having trouble.
You see, I had not had that much trouble potty training my daughter. She is now 18-months old, and she has been potty trained for months by this stage. It felt easy, whereas much else in parenting and building a company is anything but. I wondered what made this different. Why was this a part of parenting that tended to be difficult and painful, and yet for me it was just a blip? The more I thought about it, the more I realized there are amazing parallels between why potty training was easy for us, and why certain parts of building my company have been so much easier than others. In the end, it came down to three things:
Let’s start with the most crucial component of all: people. As my daughter turned one, I had zero expectation of beginning to potty train her. It wasn’t even something I thought about. But someone much closer to the day-to-day operations, our nanny Rosaline, told us it was time. My wife and I thought it was a great idea.
Likewise, very few of the original ideas coming out of Rented.com come from me at this stage. I am so busy working on the business, that in many instances I am removed from working in the business. As such, I don’t see the nitty gritty that many of my employees see. As they interact with customers, with the product, with the changing dynamics of the short-term rental industry, they come to me with their problems and their suggestions for how to address them.
My job as the CEO is to give them the opportunity to identify these problems and proposed solutions, as well as the owner mindset it takes for them to proactively want to do something about them. Having the right people in place has made potty training and launching new product lines far easier than it really should be.
But people are just one component of what it takes to make change or build and then implement something new. There also needs to be a process behind how to make that change. This is where process is critical. Sometimes the process may seem obvious; other times it is less so. In many instances we find ourselves working through an issue that many parents or companies have addressed successfully and unsuccessfully before, and we do everything we can to learn from them.
For potty training, this meant pulling out our favorite resource: Moms On Call. The series of books have been instrumental in helping us sleep through the night (most nights), creating a routine that works for our daughter, and now, in getting through potty training quickly and easily.
For Rented.com, the resources are more varied. From Traction and Traction (yes, they are different) to Scaling Up and Zero to One, the depth of experiences we can tap into is almost limitless. No matter what issue we face, someone somewhere (and more often than not many someones) have been through it before. Though their experiences are not exactly the same as ours, there is much we can learn from them. Starting with a process that is 80 percent right and then refining it helps us move quickly and stay moving in the right direction.
The final critical component to making what should be hard feel easy is allocating the right resources to building the solution. These resources can vary from physical resources (e.g., a training potty), to intellectual resources (e.g., some of the books mentioned above) to systems to make things more automated.
Having the right people and having them know the right thing to do is of no help if they don’t have the time required to make that thing successful. As you decide to pursue new ideas, new business lines and new customers, you also have to figure out how you are going to shift resources to make that pursuit as fruitful as possible. This can mean bringing in new resources (e.g., people), or it could mean that you “create” new time by stopping things that are not as beneficial. Everyone has the same 24-hours in their day. You cannot just add more and more to someone’s plate without also taking something off.
None of this is to say that everything about parenting or building our company has been easy; far from it. The point is that working through a painful slog should not be a badge of honor. There are so many difficult tests you will face in life. When you can find ways to make them easier, why wouldn’t you?
Andrew McConnell is the Co-Founder and CEO of Rented.com.