For me, imposter syndrome meant I struggled with the title “CEO” for a long time. I always introduced myself only as “The Founder”. I just didn’t feel like a CEO. I was the CEO of myself and then 8 months later, a graduate.
Starting a technology company with no tech background and then the struggle to find developers meant I relied heavily on them to create something tangible from my design ideas. In the beginning, I only felt like a woman with ideas, not a ‘real’ CEO. I approached the business instinctively and designed my structure as flat and my business as a vertical. I focused on creating relationships within the business and external to the business to make sure the business could develop as it needed.
My mission was to create a solution to a problem that I knew existed, and being a CEO wasn’t on my list of priorities and it also wasn’t necessary for my mental health at all.
I was not aware that the feeling I was experiencing actually had a name. Although, I think it made me more empathetic to potential clients. But ultimately it didn’t make a dent in the development of my business SurePact and it certainly did not make a huge difference to how I behaved or who I am.
During the first months of building my business I was so busy, travelling thousands of miles and meeting dozens of people to share my vision of what SurePact could do for them so I did not really have the time to navel gaze on how imposter syndrome really felt and I think this was a good thing. Leanne Kemp, Queensland Chief Entrepreneur and Founder & CEO Everledger, was the one that pushed imposter syndrome out the door for me when she said,
“CEO’s of big corporations don’t always cut through the jungle with a butter knife to get their position as a CEO. Founders & [start-up/scale up] CEO’s absolutely earn their right at the big table with the title CEO as they start in the jungle with the butter knife, upgrade to the steak knife, then machete & then they find people with chainsaws to help them & then they just go, go, go! Along the way they learn to survive, grow & scale. They do it all to start with & then they find people to join them on the journey. That’s what sets us apart.”
As someone who has always been very organised (some may say a bit OCD) juggling so many plates as an Entrepreneur, Founder and CEO, Mum of 4 and Wife has left me appreciating my extremely organised personality trait as it has been important for dealing with challenges.
Accepting that the buck stops with me and, especially in the beginning, if I didn’t drive development then nothing would happen – these were essential realisations for me in business.
I also had to find the right people to surround myself with, people that I fully trusted to help me build my vision into a reality. Being willing and able to lose a little bit of control to that part of the business development was personally challenging, but very necessary.
When it comes to building a growing team, I feel like I am a bit like the meat in the sandwich. A must have for all startups, I believe, is establishing an Advisory Board. Only a few weeks into my journey I started to create an Advisory Board of mentors who I met with regularly as they challenge me, guide me and they are also my cheer squad.
On the other hand, I have my SurePact team of amazing people. They are supportive and knowledgeable, filling in the gaps in my experience. We’ve built our SurePact team into a cohesive group who work towards the same goals with the same vigour and enthusiasm. Of course, we’ve had a few ‘good but false starts’ come on board that don’t last long.
I have learned to trust others to direct me to talent and to accept that someone moving on is not the unkindest cut to any of us. As most people say, communication is the key and our team uses various technical platforms that allow us to stay connected all the time even if we work in disparate spaces. Each SurePact work group makes a point of daily stand-ups to check-in on what they are doing, we make time for regular team meetings and every month have a full face to face team meeting, to catch up and leverage the team dynamic both personally and professionally.
As the business has evolved one of our main challenges has been managing the changing nature of some roles, necessitating a change of skill set. Because the technical development is quite specific, finding the right people, with the right attitude, with the skill set we need has been slow to start in some cases. Now we’ve got a stable team of great developers who are highly successful and very experienced to deliver specific outcomes.
One of the most difficult changes for me since founding SurePact was the major change in my personal identity transitioning from a Senior Public Servant with more than 25 years experience in project and contract management with lots of industry respect and credibility to a technology startup Founder. The day I resigned and became Founder to my tech startup I was perceived as a child again. Having to regain respect around my skills, knowledge and value proposition has taken some time and getting used to. I believe I am now almost back to a comfortable point again in my career as an Entrepreneur – it has taken a few years.
Building a team that has the same vision as me has been critical. Bringing the team along on my vision through involvement has been a game-changer. My idea for SurePact came from my previous experience with the problems we now solve, so sharing my past experiences with our team has been invaluable and a major help to let them understand my vision.
I involve the team in the development of our strategy throughout the year and twice-yearly we move out of the office with an advisory board member who facilitates a brainstorming exercise as we plan the next 6 months of our strategy.
This first appeared on the Springboard Enterprises Program Blog in February 2020.