Today I interview Cynthia Del’Aria and we talk about leadership in the SaaS world. Cynthia helps business owners turn their idea for an app, custom software, subscription product, or website into higher profit with higher margins. Her career spans nearly 25 years, and includes development skills in the full web stack, as well as the business side of the house.
How Cynthia came up with the idea of a startup incubator
She is currently on the verge of starting a new FinTech startup which will be her fifth but she has built close to 100 startups for other people over the years.
The biggest issue with brand new startups especially in the tech industry is that people have a great idea for an app or a software product or a solution to a problem they have and they think because I have this problem, a lot of other people will also have the same problem.
They then spend lots of money and years of their life on it without understanding what the market is asking for and how their target users perceive the problem and so they get a really expensive solution to their own problem.
She started an incubator to help people get some answers to their problems and enable them to build more successful and profitable companies faster.
The importance of leadership for SaaS companies
Leadership matters irrespective of the size of the organization. It matters for both small and large organizations. In fact it matters more when it is a small organization, if you are a leader, regardless of where you are in the organizational hierarchy, your job is to make sure that you are holding the vision and if you are holding the vision there are days when you will be the only person that can see it.
You need to cheer people on and remove roadblocks out of their way so that they can be great at what they do.
Leading with empathy doesn’t require a leadership title, being a good listener, understanding how to get the commitment of the person on the other side of the conversation.
The skills that it takes to be an effective leader are the same skills that it takes to be a compassionate, empathetic and caring human.
What first time founders need to understand about leadership
The biggest struggle many first-time founders who are either working on their startup as a side hustle or quit their full time job in order to pursue their venture face is realizing that they are the one who has the vision for their startup and they are ultimately responsible for its success or failure.
When they are faced with a major decision, you might find them looking around and wondering who is supposed to make the decision. You are going to make mistakes and that is alright.
It is important for them to get to the mindset of this will live or die on me and everything is driven off my effort, time and commitment because I am where the buck stops.
The differences between good and bad leadership
Leadership is more of a soft skill than a hard skill so defining metrics around leadership can be difficult. It is easy for people to be elevated into leadership positions because some of the indicators of poor leadership are hidden.
If you find out that the only reason you are talking to people is to criticize or tell them, they’re doing something wrong, you’ve got that backwards. Good leaders celebrate everything, the smallest wins are a reason to celebrate with people.
Whenever our team closes a new client, we walk out into the middle of the office, turn on some music, and everybody has a little five-minute dance party, it doesn’t matter the size of the client.
The point is we are serving people, we are changing people’s lives and we are doing it effectively which is a win.
People are sometimes elevated into leadership positions simply because they have been there the longest, that is a horrible reason to elevate someone because institutional knowledge or being at a place longer than everybody else, does not mean that you have the skills to effectively mentor people.
Not everybody’s personalities are the same so if your management style with everyone is exactly the same then you are going to get very different results.
Some people will tell you that you are a fantastic boss because the way that you deal with them is the way that you deal with your own issues and both of you are similar while there are other people who will be like, I totally don’t get this person and they completely don’t get me so you have to listen a lot.
You have to listen to the human on the other side of the table from you, what do they need? What are they asking for? What are their challenges? And how can you get on the other side of the table with them, and help them work it out. That is what being a good leader looks like.
Organizational pyramids are usually upside down, the CEO is at the top and then everybody is kind of underneath him. The people who do the work or interface with customers or clients are usually at the bottom. In every company she has built, she views her role as the CEO at the bottom and it rolls down on her, her job is to remove roadblocks so that everybody else gets to do the thing that they love and are phenomenal at and she does the rest.
Good leadership empowers people to live in their zone of genius for as much as humanly possible, which means people on every team in every department across the organization, are doing the things that they love, and that they’re good at, which means they’re in their zone of genius.
If you have even one department that doesn’t operate that way, because they have a manager that doesn’t really understand how to lead people effectively, or doesn’t understand what their role is as a leader, the entire company will suffer.
In a technology department for example if half of the department is working really well together but the other half is not, and the leader is pretending that it is not happening because 50% of the department is humming along and you are getting most of our results. In a matter of time you will be a little bit behind and a little bit overbudget and a lot of negative vices will start to creep into the other half that are working well and eventually, the whole system will break down.
In a group setting for example if you have one person who’s a really loud complainer, before you know it, everybody in the group is complaining and it won’t matter if you originally got together for a celebration.
How to successfully lead a team
If you are leading a department or a team and you learn to listen really well, ask great open ended questions and get curious about why something isn’t working you will be a better leader instantly because a lot of people think that they are supposed to be doing all the talking, sermonizing, proselytizing and lecturing. Your role as a leader is to listen and remove roadblocks, the more listening you do the more you will hear the roadblocks.
It starts by listening and you have to be really curious. You can’t just expect to have one strategy you adopt which works all the time.
No two organizations are exactly the same so something that is inconsequential in one organization might make all the difference in another organization.
The harsh realities of entrepreneurship
People generally think that being an entrepreneur is cool and exciting. Being a founder or in high levels of leadership is kind of like having a unicorn, everybody wants to pet the unicorn, and everybody wants to ride the unicorn. Everyone loves the silvery silky mane of the unicorn, we want to brush it and love on it.
Unicorns poop, you have to muck stalls, and you have to clean up after them, there is a lot of work that goes into the care and maintenance of a unicorn. That is what leadership is, it is doing all of the dirty work, and really allowing your team members to have all the fun playing with the unicorn.
That analogy is used not to deter people from desiring to be a founder or wanting to get into leadership but to help people have a reasonable expectation of the challenges involved in leadership.
You need to be willing to go through the journey and bear the criticism that sometimes ensues, when you put yourself in a more public situation.
You will be criticized, people will tell you that you’re crazy so it is important to understand that about the journey. It is important to know that about the journey before you embark on it for yourself so that you have some more reasonable expectations.
It will also help you to have a little bit of compassion and empathy for leadership that you don’t necessarily like or agree with.
If you are expecting a smooth journey, every time there is a road bump, no matter how tiny it is, you will be disappointed. It will be more difficult for you to get in the mindset that you need to be in order to deal with it effectively.
Whereas if you just plan on the fact that there will be road bumps, there is going to be potholes, then you will be in that mental mind space to handle it from the beginning when it comes and it won’t seem so big irrespective of how big it really is.
Why more female founders and leaders are needed in technology
Women are naturally empathetic. If you are a woman in technology, or you’re a woman who has a tech idea, and you have been thinking about it, but you’re not sure because it’s filled with men, be brave, step in and do it. Female leadership is such a wonderfully empathetic, naturally intuitive thing and it actually makes male leaders around you better too.
Raikatech – helping small business owners to turn their tech ideas into higher profits and higher margins for their business
Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cohen
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