Jack-Of-All-Trades, Master Of None: The 1 Skillset You Need As A Startup Founder
Today, being the glue is just another way of saying jack-of-all-trades.
When my co-founder and I launched our first startup together, we were more than just entrepreneurs.
For a period of time, we were also our company’s product designer, marketing director, finance lead, and human resources manager. And while it would have been great to have a dedicated employee for one—or all—of these positions, we simply couldn’t afford to hire those types of specialists.
Instead, my partner and I quickly realized we were the glue. Each of us would have to fill the gaps between certain positions until the company could afford to hire more people.
Today, being the glue is just another way of saying jack-of-all-trades. Luckily, I was able to draw from varied experiences in business and apply my diverse skill set to take on multiple positions, and the ability to do so has been critical for the growth of my company.
Even as, Amp Human continues to expand, being able to perform multiple functions has been invaluable for us. Understanding every aspect of the business allows me to be a better innovator, team player, and leader.
As an entrepreneur, it’s imperative you have a broad skill-set to help you through the early stages of business growth.
Every startup founder can benefit from being a jack-of-all-trades.
Jack-of-all-trades are masters at learning.
They are creative thinkers and problem solvers who thrive in an ever-changing and challenging environment. They often have many unique skills that allow them to function in a number of roles.
My approach today is heavily influenced by time spent in business school at UCLA. I wasn’t pressured to focus on one particular concentration, which allowed me to develop a very broad skill-set. I was able to take courses that covered every aspect of business from finance, management, and accounting to decision sciences, organizational behavior and economics.
After graduation, I took a position as a consultant for McKinsey & Company. While it was an incredible learning and training ground, I often feel pressure to specialize in one industry. I found myself pushing back.
After each of my studies ended, I would revisit the list of clients to select a new project in a totally different industry, like oil and gas, government, and sports. I didn’t want to find one thing I was good at doing and master it.
I wanted to be a generalist.
That attitude is part of the reason why I decided to become an entrepreneur. I wanted to apply the broad skillset I’d acquired over the years to create something new that could have a major impact.
And in the volatile world of entrepreneurship, adaptation is everything. Research shows that most specialist-owned businesses hit a revenue plateau well below $5 million, and the ones that surpass this level take significantly longer to get there. Experts who thrive in perfect conditions struggle to adapt when situations change. Being multi-talented helps you grow personally, and grow your startup.
A broad skillset encourages an environment for learning.
You won’t immediately feel comfortable working in every position when launching your own company. As a result, you may instinctively shy away from what you’re not good at.
For example, a cliché in the entrepreneurial world is that startups often have faulty accounting. Perhaps that’s because many business owners don’t come from a bookkeeping background. The job isn’t intuitive for them, and difficult to learn. As a result, they won’t focus on ways to make it better.
But part of being a successful founder is understanding that you’re going to know very little about a lot of things. It’s essential, then, you actively work to bridge the knowledge gap by asking really good questions that help you work more efficiently.
I learned this lesson while our team was launching our initial product. It was the first time I’d gone through the manufacturing process from start to finish. I would get on the phone and find myself baffled by terms and industry language I didn’t understand. Rather than go along with it, I had to find the confidence and humility to say, “Hey, I’m not quite sure what that term you’re using means. Can you take a moment to explain it to me?”
In those moments, I had to be comfortable admitting to my knowledge gaps and building my skill set. And I did that by asking questions to learn a new process, step-by-step.
Even today, my approach to leadership and project management is to ask as many questions as possible. For example, we recently applied for a federal small business innovation grant. It’s a procedure I’m unfamiliar with, but I worked through my network to reach people who’ve seen successful applications and asked a lot of questions about what a good application looks like.
And while I’m leaning on my general skill set to help me with this process, I’m simultaneously learning and expanding on it as I go.
One thing I’ve learned: there will always be entrepreneurs who prefer to be knowledge experts, focused on learning a lot about one thing. While specializing certainly has a multitude of undeniable benefits, it’s not always the best way to lead an early-stage startup.
Being the jack-of-all-trades doesn’t make you a master of none. It makes you a master at learning, something every startup founder needs to embrace. Because when you’re able to build a broad skill set, you’ll be able to grow your company—even when resources are tight.