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Gray Matter(s)

melissa withers

You can hunt for cash. You can contract services. You can grab a seat at an event and gobble up advice as quick as the on-stage expert can dish it. In startup markets across the world, these things happen every day. What can't you do? Pluck a talented group of stars from the stands and skate through the toughest part of growing a company: building a team.

Everyone talks about how important “the team” is to company success, for good reason. Teams execute. Teams reduce risk. If a biz model is the skeleton of a company, the team is the muscles. And if the team is weak or exhausted, so is the company.

Companies are routinely challenged to talk about the team. The team they have today. The team they need tomorrow. And the plan they have for connecting those two dots. Building a team is a rickety carnival ride, as thrilling as it is dangerous.

Team building isn't just about bodies in seats or jobs to be done. Often as not, it's about something more important and much harder to find: gray matter. If filling an entry level marketing position is hard, try looking for people who can join your brain trust and play a pivotal part in fueling your growth. Without building a bank of gray matter, good luck finding the parallel processing power to tackle today’s operational needs and tomorrow’s growth strategies.

There are legitimate reasons why a company runs short on gray matter, predictably at key moments in a company lifecycle. Gray matter is expensive, but a little goes a long way. Savvy companies with good execution skills can get pretty far before a gray matter shortage reveals itself.

When companies start to grow rapidly, the gap between the gray matter you’ve got on hand and what you need reveals itself. It's the penalty for being awesome. Growing fast creates a huge sucking sound...the sound of day-to-day operations slurping up gray matter like a brunch buffet at the Walking Dead cafe.

That being said, facing the need for gray matter growth can be hard for a founding team. Honestly evaluating a company’s supply of available brain power sometimes pokes at pride or awakens vulnerabilities we’d rather discuss with a therapist, not an investor.

Building out a company's “gray matter runway” is stitched into what we do through RevUp. It's as important as putting cash in the bank. Why? If the gray matter runs out, cash can't compensate. You can buy services and contract jobs. But gray matter? It is hard to find on the open market.

Very few founders have the intellectual capacity and cognitive bandwidth to be everything, all the time. Yet that ambition still sets a psychic gold standard for describing founder quality. Machismo? Maybe. Let it be said that seeking gray matter doesn't signal inadequacy. It signals wisdom. Once a need for more horsepower is surfaced, it can be addressed. Keep it under the water line and all you've done is buried the chance to get stronger.

Betaspring Managing Director Melissa Withers loves a good story...and helping people tell one. Melissa has worked directly with 90+ companies, focusing on all aspects of business building but always with an eye toward helping companies craft and sell a compelling story. Melissa’s career began at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT, with a unique role developing communications for initiatives like the Human Genome Project. She was co-founder of the Business Innovation Factory, a national leader in the design and testing of business models. Melissa is also a judge and mentor for MassChallenge, a proud Northeastern University alum, and co-founder of the Founders League, a coworking community and startup support platform in Providence.

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