Starting a company is a unique endeavour. It is fraught with challenges that most founders haven’t experienced before. Every day has a new surprise in stock for you, whether you like or not. Much of the time it feels like the loneliest endeavour.
Feeling the pressure
Managing an entire organization effectively is hard, especially as a founder or executive at a startup or growth-stage company. Everything is on fire all the time. Your organization needs you to provide clear guidance and leadership. You need to be true to yourself in the process. Your customers want a stable product and new features. Your investors want results.
Whether it’s conflicts within your team, or responding to a crisis, or an investor that’s changing the terms, or that feeling of not knowing where to turn for moral and emotional support, the journey is exhausting. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like you can afford to pause, reflect, and take a look around to assess where you are. It can also seem like you just have nobody in your corner.
We’ve been where you are. We’ve experienced the isolation, the loneliness, the highs and lows. We know how it feels to have nobody in your corner. We know the impact it can have when someone is there for you. We can help you find your way through the crucibles, coming out on the other side a stronger and more resilient leader.
What we do
We believe that the key to building a great organization is to, first and foremost, look at yourself. It’s been said that you can’t take your organization further than you have taken yourself.
It’s essential to approach your coaching relationship as one of trust. To that end, we’re your trusted partner. We serve as a sounding board when it doesn‘t feel like there‘s anybody else to help you. We provide a safe space where it‘s okay to be frustrated, to vent, and to be open with each other about what‘s working and what isn‘t.
Our approach is to acknowledge that “we‘re here now,” as our starting point; it only matters what we do and how we are, from this point onward.
We help you to be confident in:
- Growing as a leader and a person
- Building inclusive teams
- Supporting your team as a leader and manager
- Setting clear direction and priorities
- Shaping organizational and team culture
- Structuring your company
- Understanding organizations as systems
- Building and nurturing culture in distributed teams
- Debugging and iterating on your organization
- Seeking and providing meaningful feedback
- Avoiding burn out for yourself and your team
- Moving beyond putting out fires, towards proactive work
Sara Hicks is passionate about technology, design, product development, and startups. She loves the craft of building and shipping software, and is even more excited about designing intentional and inclusive processes for people and teams to be able to live their best lives and do their best work. Sara is a versatile product leader and former CEO and COO who has founded and sold tech companies. She works as a leadership coach and startup advisor, helping individuals navigate the challenges of leadership and management roles, and building inclusive teams.
Mathias is an engineer-turned-entrepreneur-turned-executive leadership coach. Through the startups he’s been involved in and founded, he’s turned his attention from debugging code to debugging and fixing organisations as a CEO and CTO. His focus is on people, culture, and behaviours in the organisation, just as much as on the customer and the product. “The Intentional Organisation” is a culmination of his experiences along the way. These days he works with founders and leaders to mentor and coach them to make sense of what they’re experiencing, personally and in their organisations.
Who do you work with?
We work with founders, entrepreneurs, and senior executives in early and growth stage startups. The roles cover everything from CEO, to CTO, CPO, or VP roles in product and engineering, to middle managers. We bring experience in both building entire organizations and specific leadership roles. We can empathize with either and benefit our clients by offering multiple perspectives to consider.
What’s a coaching session like?
We start by checking to see how you’re doing. We’ve been using a “red-yellow-green” check-in for years, both in our one-on-ones and in team meetings, with great success. It helps ground the session for everyone.
Then we dive into a topic of your choosing. Before each session, we recommend you take a few minutes to think about what’s keeping you busy or distracted lately. Or, take notes for the next session as things come up. We consider our sessions safe spaces. You’re welcome to air your grievances, to share what’s troubling you, or what successes you’ve had–especially if, in your role, there usually aren’t many people you can safely share these things with.
You should be prepared for us to bring the conversation around to what happens going forward. “We’re here now” is one of our values, and we like to instil that in our clients as well.
For a more personal take, you can also read about our own coaching journeys (here's Sara's) and how specific conversations have shaped us.
What do typical coaching scenarios look like?
Founder-turned-CTO in a growth stage startup. In this engagement, a CTO in a growth stage startup was still deeply involved in the day-to-day operation, having just received feedback telling them that their focus should be on the larger vision and strategy rather than to participate in discussions around minute topics of engineering. It was a comfort zone for them. We‘ve been working together for two years now, working off the feedback, developing strategies to set their teams up for success, providing the teams with autonomy by working towards a more hands-off approach for the CTO, developing strategies for them to stay out of smaller topic discussions and rather focus on the larger topics. We‘ve been working through topics like providing feedback to their team, having difficult conversations when tensions are high, hiring processes, managing managers, time management and focus, strategic thinking, and developing decision making frameworks for their teams. We‘re still working together, currently focusing on the things that need to be in place for them to grow their team significantly over the coming months, working towards and beyond the next funding round.
Engineer-turned-CTO in a business-driven, established company. The former CTO had left the company, so one of the more experienced engineers was asked to pick up the mantle. The team already had an established structure and numerous teams working on the product. But the company looked at the engineering team as a cost center more than a value stream. Technology was a comparatively small part of the organization. This particular client didn‘t have any prior management or leadership experience on the executive level. During our engagement, we explored how to structure teams, how to set and communicate a vision, providing candid feedback, how to communicate progress and value creation upwards, and how to work with the new peers and a CEO that had little experience in the world of engineering, working to understand their needs and goals and how the engineering department can help to meet them. Our engagement focused not only on the engineering side but on all angles of the executive role of a CTO.
What’s the process of getting started?
First you fill out the form we’re providing here. Provide as much information as you’re comfortable with. Please note that things you leave out here are things we’ll ask you about in our first session.
After we’ve gotten in touch with you, we’ll set up a first session of fifty minutes to get to know each other. Coaching is a matter of trust and being comfortable talking openly with each other; while that only develops over time, this first session is meant to give you an idea of what it’s like to work with us. We like talking about a specific issue that’s on your mind at the moment.
Do you coach together or individually?
We coach individually. We are nine time zones apart and have different layers of experience under our belts.
If you are in the US, maybe closer to the West Coast, or you seek experience and empathy in a product-related role or leadership role, you’re more likely to be working with Sara.
If you’re in Europe, or possibly on the US East Coast and thereabouts, or you work in a technical founder or leadership role, you’ll most likely be working with Mathias.
We do work together in guiding and running workshops and (for now, virtual) offsites, time zones permitting.
What medium do we use for coaching?
We talk either on the phone or via video.
How often do we meet?
Our normal cadence is a conversation every two weeks. As circumstances require, we can also talk more or less frequently.
What’s the difference between mentoring and coaching?
Coaching is a process of discovery based on how you view the world and the environment around you, based on what you’ve learned, and at times also on what your gut tells you. As coaches, we are sounding boards, we ask questions that stem from our own experience, with no specific outcome or answer in mind. Sometimes we ask questions that are uncomfortable or ask you to face a potentially harsh truth.
Mentoring is about learning from our experiences, about gaining a perspective of how something could be done. We can share how we think about specific questions or problems, how we may have solved them in the past, while always acknowledging that every organization, every situation, is different, and that how we solved an issue may not work for your circumstances.
We mentor and coach based on what you need. Some of our clients default to mentoring, others on coaching, for most it’s somewhere in between.
Interested in coaching?
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