Jim Harrer


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5 Best Practices of a Startup Leader

I’ve been around the block a few times as a technology leader. I’ve been fortunate to start a company, bootstrap it to profitability, skipping the VC rounds, taking it public on the NASDAQ exchange and then having a successful exit – this was over a 14 year span. I learned to manage, I learned the importance of leading by example. Since then, I’ve done another startup and performed three corporate turnarounds, all feeding my intense desire to learn how to build financially sound and insanely happy and productive companies. I thought I had heard and seen it all. Boy was I wrong.

13831827 sThis past year I have been working with 10 startup companies. Some through our accelerator here in Bend, Oregon, others through a recent Startup Weekend we held in Bend and the rest through my consulting practice. Not all startups are created equal. Some start with one person, others with more. Some start with a techie developing a killer mobile application, the other a mom with an idea on how to reduce her child’s asthma attacks and that’s it.

Working with these companies I’ve had the chance to see what has worked and where they’ve stumbled. I’ve been able to start understanding the Best Practices of a Startup Leader. The first thing you should note in my title is, I chose the word “Leader” over manager or founder. I strongly believe you lead people, and you manage things. Startups are about people, not the things. The things are artifacts of the production from the team. Production drops when people fail to lead.

If you’re thinking of founding a startup, or if you’re a founder of a startup, here are some of the Best Practices I’ve observed from the founders I’ve worked with:

1. They’re passionate.

They’re the Chief Customer Officer. They empathize and represent the customer. They’re subject matter experts in their field. They understand the customer’s persona and the problem they’re trying to solve better than anyone on the team. They know if they help their customer succeed, they will succeed.

2. They’ve got a good soul.

They’re grateful for people helping them in their startup. Not just the workers, but also the advisors and outsiders cheering for them. They choose to do the right thing over the easier path. They have integrity; they build trust and become trustworthy. They’re humble. They take responsibility for all setbacks and give credit for all the wins to others. They understand the power of two simple words, "Thank you."  They say it often.  People know they're appreciated because they're constantly reminded how much they're valued.

3. They’re a multitasker with a strong work ethic.

They’re often first to arrive and last to leave. They lead by example and are often task driven. They’ll jump across functional areas to lend a hand wherever they’re needed to kick the ball forward. They help people get unstuck. They’re not afraid of uncharted territory or learning a new skill.

4. They’re team builders.

They’re always looking for the talent and always recruiting and networking. People want to help them by volunteering, becoming advisers or working for equity. They understand it’s their duty to encourage and inspire others, because in turn it encourages and inspires within. They seek other positive, gung-ho team members.

5. They set great expectations.

They dream BIG and set huge expectations. They understand the power expectations has on the team. Saying we will have the MVP done by the end of the month, or we will have our first paying customer by Friday does work. They understand it’s not where you start that counts; it’s where you finish.

Obvisouly I could go into greater depth but I think you get the point.  Feel free to add to this list, as always, your comments are welcome below.


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Jim Harrer is a successful start-up CEO, turnaround CEO, interim CEO and an experience change management practitioner. In 1986, Jim founded Mustang Software to develop a line of modem communication software. In 1995 he took that company public (NASDAQ:MSTG), only to be crushed by the World Wide Web in late 1996. Jim pivoted the company away from communications software in 1997 by creating a new email response management system called Mustang Message Center for companies like Nordstrom, Dow Jones, Carnival Cruise Lines, and others. In 2000 the company was acquired for $290m. Jim later went on to become the turnaround CEO for Web Associates, Starbase (NASDAQ:SBAS) and Alchemy Solutions while squeezing in the EventMingle startup from 2005 to 2010. He was a cofounder of Bend Oregon's FounderPad accelerator during 2011-2012 and was a VP Development at TrueBlue, Inc (NYSE:TBI) from 2013-2015 where he lead the IT Application Development team focusing on modernizing legacy applications and innovative new products. Today, Jim offers consulting services while seeking that next great team to join in the Seattle Washington area.


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