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By Laura Gossman
Editor’s Note: Fieldnotes has profiled many of the Fellows at Praxis and highlighted their basic start-up stories and initial challenges. In order to explore these start-up challenges more deeply, we are examining some of the tensions identified in the book From Concept to Scale by Praxis’s Steve Graves, Dave Blanchard and Josh Kwan. For a previous introduction to these tensions read here. Below is Tegu’s Co-Founder, Will Haughey’s reflection on one of the tensions described in the book: ‘Grow the team vs. Stay lean’. To learn more about their start-up story read here.
Tegu, a for-profit company, launched with a plan to create social impact in Honduras by repurposing wood to create toys that would be sold all over the world. Even though Will and his brother spent months researching ahead of time what they thought would be necessary to launch such a venture, it turned out that their understanding was somewhat naïve.
They thought they had a good plan. The desire to invent a totally new product and process, all while establishing a brand intersected with the complexities of making a product in the developing world. These conditions created a perfect storm of risks and challenges that inevitably steered them off their original plan.
Will figured they had two options. They could either creatively work their way out of the challenges by raising additional funds, or they could eventually run out of resources and the venture would die. He knew that until they were stable, this later option would always be a possibility.
The initial plan included capital and budgeting for competent staff. But when they went off plan, it was hard for them to know when to “hire up”. Right from the beginning, there were delays in logistics, manufacturing and errors in product development. Tegu needed staff to fix these issues and Will found himself opportunistically hiring people.
Unfortunately, within this hiring, they did not invest well in the accounting system. He confesses that he didn’t take it seriously enough, as well as became more focused on problem solving the other areas that needed attention. The consequence of this blind spot resulted in two years worth of poor accounting and not tracking expenditures well.
Even though Tegu was in a financial crisis about a year ago, Will knew they were at a crossroads when it came to deciding to grow the team or stay lean. His mindset is to typically stay lean, but if Tegu was going to be positioned for future success, he knew he needed to find a stellar financial director. This person had to be the “best of the best” that could repair the accrued damage as well as quickly create systems to move forward.
Will spent six months looking for this person. They decided to not only grow the team during a time when he wasn’t sure if he could make payroll, but they also decided to make this the top paid person in the company including himself and his brother. Finding the right person at the right time became imperative.
It was a costly decision financially, but he does not regret this transformative hire. Not only did Jeannette Jacome bring the wisdom and skills to help restore financial problems and move the business forward, but the hire taught Will some deeper lessons as well that inevitably impacted the ethos of the organization.
While Will still has a bent towards staying lean, he now sees the darker side to this. For the first two years, he had to do more himself in areas that were outside his expertise and therefore were performed sub-optimally. There was not enough time in the day and despite his crazy hours, he constantly felt like it was never enough. “I placed more faith in myself than I realized and it was sinful of me to think I could do something to control the destiny of Tegu,” reflected Will.
His time as a Praxis Fellow challenged and transformed his thinking. He met world-class entrepreneurs that were far more successful than he was and they were actually observing the Sabbath. “My thinking began to shift in how an organization would grow and thrive,” shared Will. “I had to acknowledge that the Lord was bigger than any eight hours of work I could give on a Sunday.”
He then began to find the courage in practicing the Sabbath knowing full well that some things wouldn’t advance. Tegu had started out as a way to give glory to God and he didn’t want to be disobedient in this area of conviction. Will shared, “Even if practicing the Sabbath meant failing, I knew I would rather fail through obedience rather than accomplishing purposes through disobedience to God.”
This commitment began a process of increasing his faith in what God could do through the business. He began to see that Tegu could be something even more significant than they originally intended. Will concluded, “Saying ‘yes’ to obedience was saying ‘yes’ to the fullness of what God has called us to.”
Simply put, his Praxis experience helped him address his inner self that he had neglected. Large checks from investors no longer “felt like a rock in his backpack.” Over time, the Lord freed him from this pressure to succeed. There was freedom in being comfortable with the notion of losing. In fearing failure less, he began to stop operating out of this fear as well.
Will’s transformation has impacted Tegu’s team as well. By acknowledging his human limitations, need for rest, and entrusting successes and failures to God, the team is able to live more fully into these values as well.
With faith and boldness, they began to hire people. Last summer they were worried about making payroll. Today, they are in a “hyper growth” season. They received a multi-million investment last November that Will confesses he couldn’t take credit for, as the individual wasn’t even on his radar.
The challenge now is learning to grow the team wisely. Will is struggling to recruit well and find the right talent. They now have the opportunity to divide the labor up into more specific skill sets. But as he grows the team, he continues to hold Tegu’s success loosely, with open hands acknowledging that this venture is not equal to the sum of its parts.
Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and a recent new mother to son Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her MA in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006.
Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.
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