Who is more important: Happy founders, customers, or employees?

Most people’s first gut instinct to this answer is “customers”, since without customers, you have no business. But people much smarter than me, namely Simon Sinek and Sir. Richard Branson, disagree. Both Sinek and Branson have come out hard for “employees come first”. Sinek says, “Happy employees ensure happy customers. And happy customers ensure happy shareholders—in that order.” Branson’s approach is similar: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your clients.” Makes sense, but how does this approach work when you have no employees, only a founder or founders?

Happy Founders?

It’s simple really. In fact, it’s exactly the same, except that the “employees” are the founder or founders. A great example is in today’s blog post from Atlanta Tech Village about Calendly founder Tope Awotona. Tope started 3 businesses before he founded Calendly. In each of those three startups, he did ok, but he didn’t care about the product, and therefore didn’t care about the customers. None of those three businesses succeeded.

Then Tope landed on a problem that he experienced over and over in his life as an Account Executive: scheduling meetings via email sucks. Calendly was born. Five years and millions of users later, there’s a happy founder, lots of happy employees, and millions of happy users and customers.

Anyone Can Start Any Business

It’s not hard to start a business. Anyone can do it. Growing and maintaining a business? That’s much harder, and even more difficult if it’s not something you even care about. In Pitch Practice, during my usual opening monologue in which I explain how we got to nearly 5 years of Fridays, one of the topics is “tell a story.” Even in your 30 second pitch, you can tell a story. Usually – though not always – that story is about how you got where you are today. Your story is about how you discovered and experienced the problem and how you came up with your solution.

That’s much different than, “I’m opening up a business to resell Big Green Egg knock-off grills”, when you live in an apartment and have never actually grilled a meal.

Happy shareholders come from happy customers, who come from happy employees, who are led by happy founders who are solving a problem that means something to them.

What do you think about that?

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