Work With People Better Than Yourself


I'm limited. My skills are finite. Regardless of how many new things I learn, my skills set is not limitless. This obviously means that there is only a limited number of things in my life that I will be truly good at. Some skills I may be able to enhance with practice / experience and a few others I'll be able to hold my own (whilst never being great at those). Fact is, I can't do everything.

This honest self-evaluation has been especially true for in my business / work life. A couple of years ago when I co-founded WooThemes, I was a DIY-type designer / developer / jack-of-all-trades. As the business has grown though, my role has evolved significantly and I'm now the "business guy" at WooThemes (main reason being that this is something I'm much more passionate about than pushing pixels or writing lines of code).

In this role, some of my main responsibilities are marketing & business development (whatever exactly that is). Considering I did my graduate studies in accounting & only did a one year post-graduate in business strategy, neither of these two are things that I'm necessarily great at, yet I'm tasked to take care of those in a very successful business. I don't think I'm bad at those either and in fact I think I've got a bit of natural talent too. My 3+ years of experience has obviously also helped. I'm still not great though. 

So with this in mind, I've been doing a couple of things to counteract the inevitable fact that I'm simply not great at everything. Natural talent goes a long way, whilst a "student-like" mentality coupled with experience will increase the reach of that talent. None of those are sustainable though and I've identified a couple of ways in which I can avoid stagnating personally, as well as within our business:

  • I believe that every single person we've hired at WooThemes, has been better than myself at something. As mentioned earlier, I was much more hands-on initially in terms of design & development, but these days that is not needed since we have incredibly talented people taking on that responsibility. I also believe that it is absolutely crucial that - as an employer - I need to trust these guys' opinion and back their decisions with conviction, because they are much more talented, skilled & experienced in those areas. If we didn't hire guys that were better than the co-founders in some way, we'd stagnate pretty quickly, since the company could only grow at the speed at which we could grow as individuals. Hiring a team that is better than you though, drives the momentum of that growth / innovation forward exponentially.
  • Being based all the down in Cape Town, South Africa (read: far removed from any major tech hub) it is a challenge to make friends and have mentors in our industry. Through the years though, I've spent a lot of time building relationships online (WooThemes' success has obviously helped with this) and I have many great friends that have founded or are working at much bigger companies than ours. Whilst they don't necessarily act as an "official" advisor / mentor, they are always available to me if I have any questions or I just want to bounce an idea off them. This kinda feedback from an experienced individual is absolutely invaluable in terms of exposing myself to other ways of thinking and implementing generic strategies.
  • One of the things I've been intrigued about in recent months is the notion of working with specialists to consult on specific things within our business. A couple of months ago, we worked with CoSupport to improve the way we were doing customer support. Sarah Hatter (who heads up the team at CoSupport) was previously responsible for the setup & running of 37Signals' customer service for 6-odd years. So you can just imagine the type of invaluable feedback that she & her team was able to pass onto us. The whole experience was so enriching, I'm no actively pursuing a collaborations with similarly awesome individuals to consult on other areas of our business.
I don't generally do things out of fear, because I think that fear is a relatively stupid foundation on which I can base a decision. I do however have a fear of stagnating. I want to learn more every day and every morning I want to wake up, I want to try be better than the day before. This same attitude applies to what I do in business and right now this energy is directly focused on growing WooThemes even further.

There is just however no way that I can do that without working with other people that are better than I am. Recognizing & embracing this has probably been the best decision I've ever made in business.