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The Curse of the Do it Your Selfer

By Doug Zeisel, TCV Growth Partner-

I will admit it; I am cursed by an affliction that was embedded in my psyche since I was a child. I grew up in a blue collar family (no, don’t ask me what school I went to) in a time when money was more scarce than the eggs I used to “run up the hill” to buy from the “egg lady”. So my father “did it himself”. On one weekend, I watched him pull the engine out of our old Pontiac sedan, tear it apart, and completely rebuild it. He fixed everything that broke and loved building things like “ham radios”. He even built a 24” Heathkit television. So, growing up like that, it was natural that I would adopt his mentality to do it myself. Even if I can afford it, I tend to fix it – like the dryer that stopped drying clothes a few years back. Doing it myself saves money and gives me the pride that I can fix just about anything. So why is this a curse?

Being a do-it-yourselfer is sometimes necessary, but it can be fraught with danger, especially for founders of companies who aspire to build something of value for themselves and their customers. Here are some reasons why:

You Don’t Know What you Don’t Know

For a do-it-yourselfer, this one is sometimes hard to admit. Take for instance our company website (which will be completely redone by a professional in the near future). Yes, I did it myself and yes you can tell. Sure, WIX is fairly easy to use but unless you have training, you can end up using outdated templates and putting together a blasé website. But such is just the tip of the iceberg for a business founder/CEO. He/she may believe that they can just participate in a workshop and learn all they need to know about raising capital, or managing cash flow, or providing sound leadership. But the truth is, newly obtained knowledge can never replace real life experience. Because with experience comes a deeper knowledge of the nuances you never can learn in a classroom. Yes, I have a MS Degree in Finance, but all of that theoretical knowledge was of no help when it came to recapitalizing the balance sheet of a client company. I knew how to do it because I had been part of a team that had done it many times before. So, I instinctively knew what resources I would need, and how to implement a plan. But founders and CEO’s of early stage companies all too often think they know enough, or can learn enough from a workshop, then implement solutions themselves. Maybe they will succeed, but the danger is in the “maybe not”. And, there is another danger:

You can’t do it all yourself

Even if you have all the knowledge you need to be successful, at some point you will be working 60-hour weeks just to keep up. Forget about entering new markets, developing new products, or even keeping an eye on your competition, there is just not enough time in the day. There is always an inflection point when a growth company either finds a way to build out its management team and continues its growth or it stagnates and eventually becomes either a hobby business or a flame-out. There are solutions to this dilemma, but the founder/CEO needs to be wise enough to seek them out. Which brings up the next problem of being a do-it-yourselfer.

Time is ticking – Don’t Waste it!

Time is a precious commodity. Unless you have mastered time travel (seen any Tardises lately?), time is the one commodity that can’t be replaced. How much time have I wasted doing things that someone else could have done better, faster, and more efficiently? Wouldn’t that time have been better spent doing the things that are my specialty?

Ego is your enemy

It’s hard to admit, but I frequently have to rein in my ego. This happens almost weekly in our TCV Growth Partners team meetings. I am blessed with having 5 really smart people on my (oops ego again) our team. Our team is comprised of professionals who have been exceedingly successful at building high performance organizations. During these team meetings it sometimes takes great restraint to listen and learn from people who, I have to admit, are smarter than I am. Not easy for me whose ego is sometimes too fragile and sometimes too strong. But our success is built on teamwork, for which I am grateful. Knowing when to rein in your ego is not easy (our website, for example). Our team sometimes encounters situations where a founder/CEO is so headstrong, so sure of him/herself, that they just will not listen. And, more often than not, they crash and burn. There is a big difference between ego and confidence. It takes confidence and humility to know when you need help. The most successful companies are led by those who seek help when they need it.

Do-it-yourself conundrum

Founders and CEO’s often grow their company to a point where they need to expand their management team, but don’t yet have the cash flow to hire a full time executive. Expanding their workweek from 60 to 80 hours is not the solution. TCV Growth Partners provides highly experienced executives on an as needed, when needed basis. You wear the hats that fit…let us wear the rest! Contact me for more information-


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