As a founder who bootstrapped her business to $4MM in annual recurring revenue in just 2.5 years, Laura shares her biggest leadership lessons around delegation and letting go.
Every two weeks as part of The Heartbeat ❤️, I asks one question to a founder, CEO, or business owner I respect. This week, I interviewed Laura Roeder, Founder and CEO of MeetEdgar. Watch & read what she has to say here…
Claire Lew: Hi everyone, my name is Claire Lew and I’m the CEO of Know Your Company. And today I’m really honored to have with me the founder and CEO of MeetEdgar, a social media scheduling platform tool, Laura Roeder.
Laura is someone who I’ve definitely admired from afar. She bootstrapped her business, in its first year originally to $100,000 in monthly recurring revenue.
And they’re now, I think they’re three and a half years into the business. They have over 7,000 companies using the products and customers using the product. Just a really incredible story of sort of staying true to what her vision was, staying independent as a company. They’re also a remote company, so, really excited to have you here today, Laura!
Laura Roeder: Thank you Claire.
Claire: Laura, I have this one question that I’ve been asking a lot of different leaders that I’m gonna ask you, which is, “What’s something you wish you would have learned earlier as a leader?
Laura: I’m guessing other people might have given you a similar answer, too: Really letting go and letting the people you work with have ownership and make decisions without you. I feel like for me that’s been the constant process of leadership that I’m still definitely working on and still learning.
Stopping yourself from being a bottleneck in the company — I think it can be very subtle. I think you think, “I don’t tell people they have to get approval from me,” so I’m not blocking things up. But then, if everyone runs everything by you for your opinion or advice, they’re getting approval from you without you explicitly stating it, right?
It can be more subtle than you saying, “Oh, I don’t have to check on everything,” and I think to be a great leader, you really have to be deliberate in saying, “I don’t need to see this. Don’t show this to me.” You know, “Make this decision without me.” Which can be a hard thing to do.
Claire: Oh my goodness, yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s the biggest challenge especially for leaders who transition from being an individual contributor to becoming a leader. Because usually, when you become a leader, whether you’re promoted or whether you’re a founder, it’s usually because you’re good at doing the job, right? You’re good at doing “the thing.”
And now, all of a sudden, when you’re a leader, it’s all about letting go of doing “the thing.” For you, personally is there a particular sort of instance where you realized, “Oh my gosh, I am the bottleneck and I had no idea and I am caring too much about ‘doing the thing’ instead of just letting go?”
Laura: In some ways, it’s hard to think of a specific example because there are so many! So, right now I’m in the CEO role and I’m also heading up the marketing team. Marketing has been the area that’s been the hardest for me to step away from, because that is my, like you said, individual contributor background, is doing the marketing side.
Sometimes, I find myself shooting down ideas that I don’t even mean to do, because I’ll sort of just, at first brush, be like, “I don’t think that strategy is really as strong as some others we’ve been looking at,” but I haven’t let the person even tell me what the idea is, what the whole strategy is, right? And it can be easy not to realize how powerful a side comment from me as the leader/CEO/founder going “Oh, I don’t know about that,” to someone else can read as “Laura has vetoed this, this will never happen,” when maybe I mean like, “Why don’t you flesh that out more?” But I need to say that explicitly.
Claire: Definitely. I think there are so many founders and CEOs and managers who I talk to where they inadvertently realize that their word, all of a sudden, has become the law of the land, and that a casual comment like, “Oh, I don’t know if I really like that,” means “Okay, we will never, ever bring this idea up” when that’s not what you meant at all!
As a leader, having learned those lessons the hard way as we all have, how do you compensate for that? What things do you now to try to do to let people know my way is not sort of the highway?
Laura: So part of it just like constantly, explicitly saying things like, “This not urgent,” because that’s another thing that I’ve learned. People think that if it asks and comes from me, that means it’s at the top of the priority list, which is I mean literally, never the case with how our company. We’re very big on not having false deadlines, not having urgency. We want to complete things at the right pace.
So, I’ll just think of a random like, “I’m curious about this report,” or I’m curious about this statistic, so if I’m asking someone for something like that, I’ll say, “THIS IS NOT IMPORTANT! THIS IS NOT URGENT!” in all caps in the email, just to really be clear and I find that, I can say like, “Just because it comes from me, it’s not urgent,” it’s just a lot more helpful for the other person if I go ahead and put that out, it’s just a lot clearer.
Claire: Oh my gosh, absolutely! I think yeah, I think in previous jobs that I’ve worked out, whenever the boss would say, “Oh yeah, get this thing done,” it’s like that gets moved to the top of the list when in many ways, that’s not the case.
At MeetEdgar, you definitely have folks who are managers and who you’re growing and coaching as well. How do you, if you try to at all, teach them this? If this is for you the biggest thing you wish you would have learned, are there different things that you try to suggest to new managers as you grow them and bring them into the company, around this?
Laura: Something that we do that I think is kind of unusual for our size, so we’re about 30 people is to really have very little execution time for managers. Which is something, I don’t know, I read a lot from the Basecamp founders, I know they love to spend a lot of time coding. I love a lot of their ideas. They probably would not resonate with this one.
But for us, we really just want to make sure that a manager, who we call “advocates” at our company, have the time and space to be there for their team at large, which means they’re not spending a lot of time on individual work, some, but definitely not the majority of their time.
I think that sort of helps … If you are just leading and managing, I think that can make it a little easier to take a step back from being so bogged down in execution and letting your team be the ones who are really bogged down in execution, because I can imagine that’s even harder if someone is like the leader of the team and they’re programming right alongside next to … I can imagine that would just make it more challenging as the other programmer to feel like they’re not really scrutinizing all the work that’s being done.
We find that having that space, having that separation, is pretty useful.
Claire: Definitely. It’s interesting, it reminds me actually. I spoke with Michael Lopp, who’s the VP of Engineering at Slack, and asked him this question a month or so ago. And he said something really similar about how delegation is really for him, the thing that he hires for in managers and he looks for and what he talked about in particular is that, as a manager, you need time to manager and let that, like you said, that space.
And he was saying that if you’re too busy doing the actual work, actually as a manager, that’s a huge mistake. You should not be busy. I mean, would you agree with that? Do you find yourself as a CEO, trying to be in many ways, less busy?
Laura: Yes. I mean, I have very little what I would call deliverable work that I do, actually something I do as CEO is promote the company, via podcasts and interviews like this.
That’s actually one of the few things on my list that are really like things that I have to complete. Things that I have to do. I try to spend most of my time really on strategy, on coaching others. Even my role in marketing, even though I’m heading up marketing right now, I don’t write copy. I could, but I’m not doing the hands-on stuff.
And that’s how it’s always been. I’ve never written copy or done like the actual marketing for this company. That was something very deliberate for me because I wanted to have time and space for the other parts of my job.
Claire: Definitely. I’m curious, Laura, I mean you’re saying the company is now 30 people. Has that evolved as the company has grown? I know originally, before starting MeetEdgar, you’d run your own consulting practice. So, from that transition, boutique consulting practice to large early-stage SAS company, did you find yourself, when you were a lot earlier sort of on your path, feeling like, “Okay, I have to do the work?”
Do you remember the moment when you switched and you started realizing like, “This is a different stage now,” or do you think it’s not? Or, have you from the beginning have you always tried to just purposefully let go as much as possible?
Laura: This company is by far the largest. My training business before this one was like, four people. This is definitely the largest. This is the first company I’ve run where we have a true leadership/management structure in place.
It sort of is like an epiphany moment and a gradual transition. I did have a moment where I realized that I was operating under the assumption that I was the greatest person in the world at doing everything, because when you’re in that stage of being a solo entrepreneur or freelance, and you think that you can’t let things go, you often get this idea, “I have this special way that I reconcile the PayPal downloads and nobody is capable to figure out my system that I created.”
You realize that what you’re really saying is “I’m the only person in the world who can do this and I’m the best.” I am the greatest at reconciling PayPal downloads that this world has ever seen. And that’s really absurd. And that realization helped me realize well, of course, one, just due to my age alone, right? I’m 33 now. There’s people that are better than me at everything just because they’ve been doing it for five years longer or more, if nothing else. That reason alone disqualifies me in a lot of ways.
So, obviously there’s people that are better at everything. That realization … a longer time ago, definitely helped me to start this journey of really building a team, really moving towards a business that could run without me and then that has built a reality in MeetEdgar. It is a business that runs well without me.
Claire: I love that. I think it is a humbling truth that we as CEOs, leaders, don’t like to think about, that we are not the best, probably, at what we do. And whether it’s reconciling PayPal statements or writing posts or other things that we feel like, “Oh, only I can maybe do this,” and it’s funny because we never really say that out loud. I love that you said it out loud.
I feel like that should be a mantra for a lot of CEOs to almost repeat to themselves, “I’m not the greatest.” I’m not the best at what I’m doing here. And in many ways, your job is to hire find folk and coach folks to be better.
There’s something really interesting that you said at the very end, which is around this idea that the company for you to be sustainable, right? And for it to grow is it needs to be able to run without you.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you mean by that or why that’s important to you?
Laura: That was a very deliberate goal of mine with this company, so the company that I ran before was a training business where I was a trainer, so it was the type of business where I’m the face of it. I’m creating the content, people buy from us but know and trust me, so it was leveraged in the tense that it was online training, it wasn’t one-on-one consulting, but it was not a business that I could step away from six months … it was not a business that could ever be sold.
It was really tied to my time. Like, in the sense … it was more leveraged, hours for dollars, but at the end of the day, kind of, it was still hours for dollars, because Laura Roeder needed to show up to make that business work.
So, I was like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I had a business where I didn’t have to show up to make it work?” And what I love about having a software business is I’m not a programmer.
So I cannot help, if it breaks, like at all. I don’t know what to do. It’s a really great constraint because it has just forced me, in this really major way, since the beginning of the business, to be like, “Obviously, this business doesn’t depend on me, because other people have to build and maintain our actual product that we’re selling.” So I know I’m not going to be the linchpin going in and saving everything if it breaks.
I also had an unusual situation. I was pregnant when we launched MeetEdgar and I knew I would go on maternity leave, so I went on maternity leave I guess about six months after launch. For six months, I was totally off. I knew that I was pregnant, that the baby was coming, when we launched, so I had that kind of structure in mind right from Day One. I need to build a company that for that three months, I mean minimum, right? Isn’t gonna fall apart.
I want a company that’s going to grow while I’m gone, and it did, significantly.
Claire: That is incredible! I had no idea that you were pregnant during starting the company. I mean, starting a company by itself is hard and just being pregnant and having a kid is hard, separately, so the two together blows my mind.
I feel like you should be getting so many awards just for that alone. That’s incredible, Laura. Thank you for all of your insights, I am sitting here taking them all in. I know everyone who’s watching really appreciates all your wisdom as well.
So, thanks so much for being here and yeah, we appreciate it.
Laura: Thank you!
Enjoy this interview with Laura? Check out all our Heartbeat interviews with leaders…
And, take a peek at some of our other resources we offer leaders…
P.S.: Please feel free to share + give this piece 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks😄 (And you can always say hi at @cjlew23.)