Wed

24

Sep

2014

Leading Means Sharing the "Why"

At the end of August, we released the biggest product upgrade in our history. It was much larger and took us much longer than we thought. We basically changed the core of our user interface, which meant changing the core of our business. It’s the very thing that’s brought us this far, so it felt like a big risk to change it.

 

Share the "why" with your team
But it was also a huge opportunity to make it better and make it right. There was a lot of weight on my shoulders for this one, so getting it out the door feels great. I feel tired—people can see it on my face—but I am really happy it’s out there. Now, at our company headquarters in Hamburg, we have dashboards where we can see the existing users changing over to the updated Jimdo, hundreds every hour, and it’s really cool to see. People are embracing it much more than we ever thought, so that’s great.

 

Understanding why you do what you do


The process was rough for me, because I had to learn to pass on the responsibility and not treat everything like my project and my responsibility. This realization helped me better understand my role in the dynamics of the company. My role wasn’t to do everything. It was to communicate and spread why we were doing it.

 

At the beginning of a project like this, you have to understand the “why” behind what you are doing in order to solve the problem at hand. The right decisions come from empathizing with the users, so you have to start by knowing them well, and then knowing what you want to build for them. The “why” is the foundation, and that directs you towards what you want to do.

 

What I figured out over this process is that the people on my teams who were doing brilliant work, who I trusted the most, were the people who shared the same “why” as I did. We know what our users want, we agree on the same fundamental ideas. My teams and I talked about this a lot. With a shared understanding of our users, and a shared understanding of why we were making the changes we were making, I was able to trust them.

 

Communicating the “why” became my method of passing on responsibility to other people. If I did that successfully, I knew my team would be able to make the right decisions, based on the same fundamental view and understanding of our customers’ needs.

 

Scaling a company means passing on the "why"


This process has also taught me a lot about scaling up a company. At Jimdo’s start in 2007, it was just the founders sitting in a room together. We knew what we wanted to do and why we wanted to do it. We wanted to solve the problem the users had, which was to be able to easily update their websites. Simple problem, right?

 

Then, as the company grows, you keep adding people. But it’s still implicit in that startup atmosphere what everyone is supposed to do and why you do it.

 

Then, you hit a certain barrier when it comes to growth. You hire more and more people, on multiple teams. You find yourself listing all the things that people have to do to complete the larger vision, but as the founder you are still the one who owns the “why,” not them. If you don’t scale that “why” and pass it on, then you’ll always have a problem stepping back, or even going on a holiday. It’s risky for the company if you’re the only one holding the “why.”

 

So I’ve really been working on answering the question of “why” and passing it along to other people and other teams. I know that once they take over that idea, they will be more self-motivated to solve the problem. If people know why we do stuff, they can take action, they can build the product, they can do the user research, and they can take on the responsibility for me. And that helps me scale the company. The weight is still on my shoulders, but it’s shared by everyone else as well—and that makes for a better product and a better company.

 


Fridtjof Detzner

Fridtjof Detzner

Co-founder at Jimdo

 

Fridtjof and Christian started their first company, dream-up.de, while they were still in school. Fridtjof went on to found another company with Christian and Matthias, which evolved into Jimdo in 2007. When Fridtjof is not in the office, he likes to mountain bike in the Alps, kite surf, and dream up other extremely frightening things he can try.