Are you the bottleneck for growth?

April 13, 2021
Business Growth


Are you becoming the bottleneck in your own business? John Stapleton, co-founder of New Covent Garden Soup Co and Little Dish, shares his six lessons on hiring an executive team, stepping back and reinventing your role as founder.

Don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed

There’s no fixed rule on when you should start building an executive team. You won’t really know until you’re there – or when you’ve past that point. It’s normally associated with feeling overwhelmed; you can’t cover everything like you should or like you need to. If you’re smart, you’ll recognise that you’re the one who is becoming the bottleneck in your business and you need to get out of the way of your own success. When we started New Covent Garden Soup Co back in 1987, we were a bunch of happy amateurs, making things up as we went along. It wasn’t until the early nineties that we realised we needed to build a stronger team and in particular, bring in a strong financial director; we were employing around 40 people at that point, and we were coming apart at the seams. Within a few weeks, he had pointed out loads of things that we weren’t doing properly. He helped to bring in systems, controls, structure and allow us to develop a more up-to-date strategy.

Hire for your weaknesses

As an entrepreneur, it’s important to have a bit of an ego; you need self-confidence to deal with all the setbacks and the naysayers. But your ego can easily get in the way. You’ve got the business this far on your own so you assume that you, alone, can carry it into the future. That’s a mistake. As a business evolves, it requires different skills. You have to try to figure out what you're good at – and then find people who are better than you at the stuff you're not so good at or the stuff you don’t want to do.

Ask your peers

I’m hugely in favour of bringing people up through the ranks but, if your business is growing rapidly, you can’t rely on this alone – you need to bring in outsiders who have the right skills and can hit the ground running. Finding senior people that integrate well into your business can be tricky so I place a lot of emphasis on word of mouth and personal recommendations; you get more information and more honesty that way. Talk to like-minded business owners with a similar business culture to yours. If your job spec is really well defined and you’re savvy about who you ask for help, you stand a good chance of finding the right person.

Hire people you can’t afford

You want to employ Goldman Sachs-level talent without paying Goldman Sachs prices. No startup can afford that kind of salary. So while you should always pay well (above the industry average), you need to appeal to other things smart people want. Share options are a great way to entice people to your company – and keep them. Your company culture is also an asset. People want to work for firms where they can make a contribution, directly and immediately; they want to follow a purpose; they like to have access to the founders; and they love to be part of the big decisions. You don’t always get that in large corporations.

Set a structure and over-communicate

As you bring more people into the business, things get more complicated and that can quickly turn into chaos if you don’t have a structure and a really strong culture of communication. Everyone needs to understand which “cog” they are and how the cogs all fit together. Goals need to be transparent. If there are any grey areas, weed them out.  

Stop “doing” and start steering

Once you’ve built your executive team, you need to reinvent your own role as the founder. You have to delegate and learn to let go. There can be a sense of personal loss – after all, the business is your “baby” – but the worst thing you can do is micromanage. You have to move away from the “doing” and start steering. You’re there to make sure the boat is going faster – and in the right direction.


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