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People join startups, because they get to help build something big. No two days are the same, the energy is unparalleled, and you’re surrounded by other passionate people who share your excitement.
In this type of environment, you need to play to your strengths and know where you fall short. Heidi Jannenga identified the three startup archetypes while launching her company, arguing that: When you discover your style, you unlock your potential as a leader. But in my experience advising high-growth tech startups, these archetypes exist at all levels of an organization. And as a company moves into the scaleup stage, it’s essential to not only understand your archetype but also the archetypes of your colleagues. When you don’t have a 360-degree view of your team’s working style, professional disagreements do not only affect working relationships — they also impact company success.
I created the four Scaleup Archetypes to help employees understand their role during this pivotal stage of growth. Below you’ll learn about each style, their strengths, blind spots and my specific advice for each.
Related: 4 Strategies for Scaling Up From a Business Guru
1. The Carpenter
The Carpenter believes there is no project too big or too small. They roll up their sleeves and have a GSD mentality. Even if pieces of their work are focused or independent, they get their energy from working with others to successfully complete a project.
Strengths: Carpenters are trustworthy, dependable and reliable. They’re usually close to the problems and are ready to offer solutions. A strong Carpenter lives in the present and has the mindset that “everything is figure-out-able.”
Blind spots: Because they are so close to the actual work, their job can become personal. Sometimes they get too far into the weeds. Carpenters can also be highly suspicious and judgmental of other archetypes like the Architect.
My advice: As you move into management, make sure you find time to work on projects where you’re responsible for the deliverable. Make it clear to your team that this is how you get your energy. Otherwise, it may feel like you’re stepping outside your lane. And finally: Play nice with the Architect even if you’re skeptical of them.
2. The Architect
The Architect is smart, capable and a visionary. They’re able to pair their vision with strategy. A good Architect sees what it will take for their company to move from startup to scaleup and can map a plan for how to get there.
Strengths: Architects see the big picture. They’re creative, can connect the dots and are seen by their colleagues as “dreamers.” While Carpenters are concerned with the present, Architects are always thinking about the future. When an Architect finishes their startup journey, they typically move to the investment side or become a board member or advisor.
Blind spots: Architects can be perceived as elicit and “above the fray.” They can be intellectually impatient. Conversations with Architects may come across as performative. The Carpenter typically distrusts the Architect because of their failure to get close to the actual problems and understand real pain points. Sometimes the Architect wants to oversimplify or reduce the complexity of issues.
My advice: Listen up, Architects. Your plans won’t mean much unless you develop real relationships and appreciate your other archetypes. Your ideas will simply be words and images on a PowerPoint and nothing else, so be vigilant and find concrete ways to explain how your vision can be executed. Remember: You are still responsible for delivering against outcomes.
Related: Five Ways to Build an Effective Board For Scale-up
3. The General Contractor (aka the GC)
The General Contractor is the person who maps strategy to execution. They organize workflows and pave the way for teams to succeed.
Strengths: General Contractors are great delegators and communicators. They make a fantastic go-between for all the other archetypes. A good GC knows how to inspire and motivate a team.
Blind spots: General Contractors can be perceived as the person who “walks around with the clipboard,” which makes some colleagues wonder, “What do they do all day?” A good General Contractor may feel lonely and can easily become a dumping ground for complaints. As the startup moves to scaleup, things get more and more complex. This makes it harder for a General Contractor to do what they’re best at: connecting dots.
My advice: GC, I get you are lonely and frustrated. You can feel stuck at times. Make sure you find the people who will listen to you instead of always the other way around. This may mean you need to invest in professional relationships outside your company and find good mentors who appreciate you.
4. The Civil Engineer
The Civil Engineer is a solutions-oriented employee who effectively spots risks. They know how to get ahead of issues and often become a go-to problem-solver.
Strengths: Civil Engineers are highly intellectual. Their job is to protect their environment, and this makes them attuned to details and specifics. Known by their colleagues as planners, Civil Engineers are usually the first one to spot a threat to your startup, whether it’s a new competitor, a market shift or something else.
Blind spots: Civil Engineers tend to worry and may be perceived as alarmist. This can make others view them as overly negative. Civil Engineers can lose sight of the big picture while forecasting possible outcomes.
My advice: Civil Engineers, you are brilliant and see the future like it’s a crystal ball, but choose your battles. You can’t plan for everything, and your colleagues don’t want to worry about all the ways things can go wrong. Prioritize what’s most important for others to know — and keep the rest to yourself.
Related: 4 Keys to Grow and Scale Your Startup
So, which Scaleup Archetype are you? Did you recognize certain colleagues as you read through? Now that you have a better understanding of each style, it’s important to think about how they fit into your organizational design. For example, executive teams will have a tough time transitioning to a scaleup if everyone’s an Architect. If all of your middle managers are General Contractors, there could be problems ahead. The point is: You need diversity at every level, and you can use this framework to make sure your talent is distributed accordingly.
Also, be open to a few surprises. You may find certain archetypes in unexpected places, but that’s exactly what the company needs. For example, two of my favorite founders had an Architect’s vision but were Carpenters at heart. Their worker-bee mentality was critical to their company’s success, since they weren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves during critical periods. The best Civil Engineer archetype I’ve ever seen was a CEO’s executive assistant. You never know who will show up in the right place at the right time.
Building a company is complicated and risky, but ultimately, it’s thrilling. When you leverage your team according to their strengths (and have a deeper understanding of their blind spots) you increase your odds of making it big.