Q: How do you deal with bus factor in a startup? We are losing an employee which had a cornerstone role but he was tackling this area alone.
Goodness this is one of the toughest parts of scaling.
I remember Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, and I discussed this at one of the SaaStr Annuals, when he lost his VP of Engineering. He had no back-up and thought that was it for Box, it was over. We’ve all lived it. I still live it myself!
It’s one of the biggest risks not just in the early days, but really just as you scale. Until you get to at least 50 employees, there’s rarely a second layer of management, a Plan B, a back-up for each role.
All I can tell you is this:
- First, if you hire great VPs, it partially takes care of itself. Great VPs attract great directors and great ICs. A Great VP almost always hires at least 1 great person under her than can take over. So always listen and learn, and err on the side of promoting the best you have.
- Second, the rest of the team rallies — if you have a good team. This isn’t a perfect answer, but if you have a good team, they get it. They know they have to step up. They fill the gap as best they can.
- Third, it’s better if the mediocre leave in the end. The best ones tend to stay longer, and it’s the mediocre that leave faster. You may fear the hole in the org chart if someone mediocre leaves. But in the end, you’ll see that it would have been even better if the mediocre had left earlier. It’s time to get on with finding someone great.
The “my top person gets hit by a bus risk” almost never ends until you have a deep bench of management. Maybe not even entirely then.
But the #1 key to solving it is hiring truly Great VPs. They attract the best talent under them. And it’s that talent that mitigates the risk.