In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.



Lead managing partner, Prosper Women Entrepreneurs


Background:  

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs formed in response to the entrepreneurship gender gap that existed in the St. Louis region and beyond. The company – which includes the nonprofit Prosper Institute, recently rebranded as Brazen, and for-profit PWE Startup Accelerator – helps growth-seeking women entrepreneurs advance their businesses. The organization invests capital with an aim to create jobs and revenue growth through women entrepreneurs.

The Mistake:

Being too skeptical about hiring executive-level help to boost a company’s growth.

I’m a physician and, when you go to medical school, there’s a lot of independent work. I was used to working hard and getting stuff done independently. But I became an entrepreneur and, at one point, sold my second company. I was still an executive there and the new owners really thought we needed to add another executive to the St. Louis team. I was really doubtful. I thought we were fine and had what we needed to grow out our marketplace. But they really insisted.

I think it was my training, which was very based on individual performance. There’s also research out there that shows women are naturally good multitaskers. That’s how they approach running their lives and they try to translate that into running their business. I think I am very good at multitasking and already had one success in that model. At the next company, trying to build something even bigger, I brought that thinking with me.

It was also a lesson in hiring for more than what you need right now.

The Lesson:

We hired somebody and it was just a massive lesson. I thought, “He’s too big for the job. We’re going to have to pay a lot of money for somebody who’s more than we need.” The experience of working with him and watching how the business grew made me a believer. Not only did we add a great person who I think is one of the best executives I’ve ever worked with, it was also a lesson in hiring for more than what you need right now.

That’s particularly true in an entrepreneurial setting because, if you are growing like you want to grow, if you hire for where you are right now, that person may not be the person you need in six months, nine months or a year. But if you hire somebody who’s already done some of the things you are going to need to do, then the company can grow into that executive’s skill set. And you’ll get there a lot faster because, when they come on the team, they already know what needs to be done and can already see the gaps you have. That speeds up your growth and gives you far more support than if you try to hire somebody who’s right where you are right now.

The way I apply it today is I look at what the business needs and try to think ahead in terms of where we’re going to be in this particular role, regardless of the role. You need somebody who has done something at least similar enough to your industry and growth trajectory that you can really leverage their knowledge in your setting.

I preach on this all the time now. Entrepreneurs get tired of hearing me say this. They’ll say something like, “I think I need to hire a bookkeeper.” I’ll say, “No, you need a chief financial officer or an accountant.” I try to explain it in terms of needing somebody who you don’t have to tell what to do.

If you bring somebody into the team and you have to sort of tell them step by step everything they have to do, it doesn’t mean they’re not a perfectly competent person. But, especially in a growing entrepreneurial environment, you need someone who can come in and not only know already how to do what they need to do, but they probably know things you don’t know within their field and can tell you what needs to happen. That’s the difference between adding help but not really lift in terms of what the business can do.

Mary Jo Gorman is on Twitter at @maryjogorman and Prosper Women Entrepreneurs is at @ProsperSTL.

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