About a year ago, Nancy and I were spending some time with Hardi Meybaum and his family. Hardi is the founder of our portfolio company GrabCAD which was acquired recently by Stratsys. It had taken us a long time to schedule this get together (our girls are of similar age, so we try to all get together now and then) and I commented that I heard that he’d been on the road a lot. Hardi then went on to recount his recent travels, including one trip that had him in 5 cities in one day.
When I reflect on Hardi’s experience and on my observations about many successful founders, I notice something very obvious. Many great founders travel… A LOT. And this is especially true for founders in our core market of the east coast.
Traveling a lot stinks. It’s tiring, throws off your daily rhythms, takes you away from family and friends, feels lonely and depressing, etc etc.
But I think it’s something that entrepreneurs really need to do. And honestly, I find that most don’t do enough of here on the East Coast. The benefits are pretty obvious – it makes you more effective at BD, gets you in the information flow of your industry much better, gets you in front of a broader set of customers, partners, or investors to build your network, and so forth.
There are also some increasing returns to scale in travel. When you are planning one off trips, you kind of need to build momentum around each one, and each meeting is more of a big deal. When you are just visiting someplace very regularly, it makes it easier to fill your time and get entrenched. Is a key decision-maker not around during this trip? No problem, you’ll be back next week! Want to take a meeting that has a small chance of being super valuable but might also be kind of a waste? No big deal! Weather or other mishaps ruin your schedule, no problem, you’ll be back!
I think in the early stages of a business, founders often end up looking inwards a bit too much. Going out on the road forces you to maintain a broad perspective, and keep tabs on what your company’s ecosystem is up to so you are better able to see around corners. When a company is young, it’s a bit scary to be away too much for fear that the team will lose focus without you around. But that’s just another argument to have a strong co-founder and/or have team members that are self-motivated and self-directed.
There is no one-size-fits all here, and I don’t want to prescribe behaviors for founders – everyone’s experience is going to be different. But I if you aren’t on the road at least a couple times a month, I wonder if you are being hungry enough about the outward facing side of your job as a CEO. I know some founders who will laugh at that last sentence, saying that you need to be on the road multiple days every week.
Maybe you are in an industry where all the action is local to your area, or maybe you are at a stage where it doesn’t benefit to be in front of people in different cities. But I think that’s more the exception than the rule.
Note: Thanks to Bob Mason who contributed some thinking to this post