I’m a so-called parallel entrepreneur. But what does that even mean? Superficially, it means I get to run different companies at the same time. But if you think that sounds really impressive, let me tell you it’s not! I’m not saying I don’t work hard, but even if I worked 24 hours a day and seven days a week to stay on top of every major decision in every company I’m involved in, there’s no way I could be of real value to any of the companies. In fact, I’d slow everything down and make things a lot more complicated than necessary!
Juggling belongs in the circus
Sometimes people imagine someone like me must be like one of those circus performers who spins plates on sticks. No sooner have they got one plate spinning than they’re off to set up another, and once they have several on the go, their job is to keep tending all the plates at once, frantically rushing from one plate to the next before one slows down enough to stop spinning and fall to the floor. A good circus performer can keep that going for some time, but sooner or later, they have to bring the action to an end before they find themselves both exhausted and surrounded by broken china!
From spinning plates to bottlenecks
There are entrepreneurs and investors who make the mistake of treating their companies as spinning plates. And feel the need to run around refreshing each one in turn – and keeping their grubby fingerprints on all the plates! But that does more harm than good. If you insist on being involved in every decision, you end up becoming the bottleneck (if you’ll excuse the mixed kitchenware metaphor!). That’s because there really are only 24 hours in a day, and if one person is required to sign off everything in multiple companies, some decisions will inevitably be left hanging.
Who makes the best decision?
More importantly, though, insisting on being involved is a worrying sign of hubris. It’s simply wrong to assume that the same individual is always best placed to make the right decisions. Especially if you believe that individual is you. I hire others precisely because I know they are better qualified than me. And so are their decisions. And so are their decisions. If all the companies I’m involved in depended on my own skillset, knowledge, and perspective, they would suffer from a very narrow pool of executive talent! My decisions would inevitably reflect my own biases, capabilities, and preferences. And they would therefore severely limit the quality of outcomes as well as the organization’s overall impact and performance.
Don’t be the white knight
Of course, I like to give regular and systematic input on the running of my companies. And I naturally hope that this input can sometimes be helpful! But the focus is on “regular” and “systematic”. Because it should clearly be distinguished from another prevailing approach that is as wrong as it is dangerous. We could call it the ‘white knight’ approach. Some entrepreneurs and investors prefer to take a mostly hands-off approach. But then ride in to save the day when nobody else can (allegedly) do so. This appeals to our vanity, of course. It’s nice to feel needed. But maybe you should ask yourself if these crises are self-fulfilling prophecies. Maybe you enjoy the role of the white knight just a tad too much. The recurring need for you to save the day might be the result of a, maybe subconscious, but nonetheless sophisticated design.
Pass the broom!
Usually, companies don’t need dramatic rescue operations. It is much more about the mundane, unglamorous, and potentially even unnoticed input. It’s about the right question asked at the right time, about the curation of a team, or about making a connection that saves time and effort. It is about being the devil’s advocate as much as being a spark of inspiration. For me, the key is to understand how I can add the most value and then do exactly that. No suit of armor, white knight, or hero-worship required. I (currently) don’t literally sweep floors for any of my companies, but if that turns out to be the best way I can help, pass the broom!
Get out of the way!
As an entrepreneur, there’s an art of judging how best to contribute to your company, and then sticking to that. Of course, you need to be involved, engaged, and informed to even stand the chance to contribute. But I realized that, more often than not, the best way to add value and get stuff done, is for me to get out of the way.
So, yes, I’m a parallel entrepreneur and run multiple companies at the same time. But I do it with humility and admiration for the exceptional teams that run them with me. And I’m grateful when they remind me to get out of the way and let them do their jobs. That way, I get to sleep now and again, my colleagues and partners get to develop their own talents, we’re all proud and have lots of fun along the way. Not a broken plate in sight!