New leaders of tech startups need to understand that engaged employees are the
best foundation for building a successful business.
Based on what I have seen in Silicon Valley, not all new leaders have this
understanding. New leaders, I write this for you.
Let’s skip to the punchline for you and your nascent business: employee
engagement is more important than your customers, and more important than your
If you’re like some of the new leaders that I have encountered, then you need
some convincing. Read on.
It is not enough simply to understand that employee success drives competitive
advantages like employee retention and increased productivity. What you must
understand is that your team defines your business. For your business to be
successful, your employees must be successful.
As I write this, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 viral pandemic. The business
environment is strained. Even more than usual, tech startups are under
pressure. As leaders, your beliefs in this matter will be challenged.
If you falter, you may emerge from the pandemic without the business you
thought you had.
Employees need your support. More than ever before, they need to feel like
their well-being is prioritized; they need to feel like they are being trusted
to work remotely; they need to feel that concerns about work situations are
More Important Than Your Customers
How is it, do you think, that your customers become satisfied, if not by your
employees? How well will disengaged employees satisfy customers?
Consider a software developer on your team. You know that small amounts of
effort on her part can mean big things for customers using your tech.
Consider a product manager deciding on features and advocating for the customer
experience. If she experiences pushback, will she persist in the face of
adversity if she does not feel cared for by you, her employer?
Consider a customer success advocate on your team who must push for a
technology change in order to make the customer happy. Will he push hard
enough to make those dense software developers prioritize the feature when he
does not think that you pushed hard enough to make him safe?
It is primarily your employees that satisfy the customer, not some other aspect
of your business.
So, to satisfy customers, you must satisfy employees. Employees come first, not
More Important Than Your Investors
Having a strong, engaged team is more important than your relationship with
Investors aren’t the lifeline to funds that you think they are - not your
particular investors, anyway. Investors invest based on the reasonableness of
the investment opportunity. If you make it reasonable to invest in your
company, you will be able to find investors. So, if you have problems with
particular investors, you can always find more.
How reasonable is it to invest in a company with a disengaged team?
Consider your team. Suppose that you accede to investor demands in a way that
results in a weaker, less engaged team. What have you done? You have
made investment in your company less reasonable, because your team is weaker.
Suppose that you fail to accede to investor demands in a way that causes them
not to invest, but in a way that results in a stronger, more engaged team.
Since your team is strong, you can always find more investors.
Consider the worst-case scenario of a disengaged team, quite possible in the
fast-paced world of tech startups: your team leaves you. If your investors are
satisfied that you met their demands, they still won’t invest because you have
no team; then you have nothing.
Of course, you should always try to satisfy your investors; but, you must
prioritize correctly. Strong, engaged teams are more important than satisfied
investors, when push comes to shove.
Employee engagement is more important than your customers, and more important
than your investors, now more than ever. Make decisions accordingly.