How to grow as a startup founder? Startup coach Alisa Cohn shares her insights

Author and startup coach, Alisa Cohn, appeared on the recent episode of Prime Venture Podcast with Amit Somani to share excerpts from her book — From Start-up to Grown-up. She talks extensively about the personal development journey of a company founder and the importance of the 360 feedback
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Alisa Cohn has been named the #1 Startup coach at the Thinkers50 Marshall Goldsmith Leading Coaches Awards held in London. She also features in the Top 30 Global Gurus for Startups list. Alisa has already coached multiple CEOs, startup founders, and top executives at various publicly listed and Fortune 500 companies and self-growth.

Alisa, in a podcast with Amit Somani, Managing Partner, Prime Venture Partners, says that the most important journey that CEOs and founders need to undertake is to find excellence. A company starts mimicking its founder’s good and bad points. And to ensure productive progress, the founder needs to understand what image he/she wants to put out there, she adds.

Everything is an order

“When you are a leader like the CEO, your suggestions are orders. Your whispers are orders. Your brainstorms and through-process[es] are orders. [And] your orders are orders,” says Alisa Cohn while explaining how employees view their top leadership.

And the first step to self-growth and thus ensuring the company’s growth is to address your blind spots. Founders and CEOs often do not recognise the negativity that they are infusing into their companies. The counterproductive habits of the founders tend to hide behind conversations and seep into the company culture.

“And the way to uproot your blind spots really is to get feedback from others,” suggests Alisa while emphasising the importance of 360-feedback where simply asking people around you to provide feedback can reveal so much about the founder’s drawbacks.

Alisa was particular about the founder being keen on listening to people by not getting defensive. This, according to her, is the greatest secret to unearth possible blind spots.

The 360-feedback - how to run it?

“You are the expert of your intention. Everybody around you is the expert on your impact. Leadership growth and effective leadership has to do with you marrying intention with impact,” says Alisa. And the way to make that marriage happen is to continue to talk to the experts who are basically the consumers of your leadership, viz. your employees and other managers surrounding you.

Find out your development opportunities from those conversations and focus on the behavioural adaptions that you can make as a founder, she says.

However, Alisa Cohn was also quick to recognise that most founders fail to conduct a 360-feedback in their startups. She noted that either the founders are too busy or they fail to understand the importance. But without the feedback mechanism in place, all opportunities to grow as a founder collapses.

Assessing the skill gap among co-founders

In a team of founders, often one founder scales at a rapid rate as compared to the others. And Alisa suggested having a co-founder prenup to keep track of the individual founder’s progress and have an action plan ready about such an instance.

The right co-founder relationship is the key where the co-founding team has the tough discussions well in advance. The co-founders should “ask themselves these questions like what are our values, how do we see this business, and what’s [going to] happen if one of us is not scaling?”

Alisa admits that having such conversations initially is not easy. Her advice — all founders must continuously work on their communication skills so that when the going gets tough in the startup journey, the co-founders can really sit down and have difficult conversations.

A place for self-care

Self-care for founders is a necessary habit and Alisa said that you “need to sit down and pace yourself for the marathon.” Founders need to realise that the startup journey is not a sprint.

And they need to consciously make time for the other important features of life like getting enough sleep, eating right and surrounding themselves with people who share a common mentality.

To know more, listen to the podcast here

Time stamps:

01:30 - Self-Evaluating as a Founder

05:00 - Blind Spots & 360 Degree Feedback

13:40 - When do You Need a Coach

19:40 - Imposter Syndrome & Journaling

27:00 - How to Use Positive feedback & Radical Candor

33:00 - Practicing self-care as a Founder