How To Maximize Your Value At A Startup: Your Greatest Ability Is Often Your Availability

On September 8, 1965, baseball player Dagoberto Campaneris Blanco became the first major leaguer to play all nine positions in a nine-inning game. Technically, he...

Dagoberto CampanerisOn September 8, 1965, baseball player Dagoberto Campaneris Blanco became the first major leaguer to play all nine positions in a nine-inning game. Technically, he filled ten roles, as he pitched left handed when facing right-handed batters and right handed with lefties at the plate.

Despite his status as an all-star shortstop, Bert proved himself to be a selfless utility player. Over his career, he played all three outfield positions, as well as second and third base. His willingness to add value wherever his coach needed him most, not only helped his teams win three consecutive World Championships, but it also allowed Bert to extend his career by making himself Indispensible.

Entrepreneurs should likewise endeavor to maximize their utility by playing as many positions on their startup team as they can effectively master.

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As discussed in Beach Volleyball, entrepreneurs generally enjoy simultaneously filling multiple roles during a startup’s early days. Thus, it is not uncommon for someone to be responsible for tasks that would be addressed by several people at a Big Dumb Company. By subsuming multiple responsibilities under one individual, a startup can invest more of its cash into furthering its mission. In addition, greater efficiency can arise from the relatively flat organizational structure, which results from such job consolidation.

At both Computer Motion (pioneered medical robotics, NASDAQ ROBOT, acquired by Intuitive Surgical) and Expertcity (creator of GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting, acquired by Citrix), every member of the Core Team was responsible for multiple jobs. At both companies, I was the head of Finance, Human Resources, and I managed all of our legal needs (as described in Roping In The Legal Eagles). In addition to these utility roles, I also lead revenue generation: managing direct sales, business development and online sales. If either company had been forced to hire a CFO, it would have had a significant negative impact on cash.

This arrangement proved very efficient, as I did not have to negotiate with a CFO when cutting sales deals nor did I have to rely on a lawyer to craft and approve contract language. In addition, it was handy to have a CFO who knew how to sell, as it is such an integral part of the fundraising process.

Undoubtedly, this unholy consolidation of sales and finance responsibilities could have been detrimental if I had allowed either role to dominate the other. However, I was careful to balance both responsibilities and not undermine the internal controls that organically arise when two executives occupy these positions. We eventually hired a CFO in both instances: at Computer Motion subsequent to our IPO and at Expertcity after our sale to Citrix. My core and utility roles are depicted in the following chart.

John Greathouse roles

Admittedly, I was not an all-star CFO. However, I was fortunate to recruit a fantastic finance team, which included people I worked with for over 10-years at multiple companies. With strong support, I was good enough to do the job. Fortunately I excelled in other areas, which augmented my overall contributions to my companies. Great utility players do not simply play multiple positions; they play one extremely well and several others more than adequately.

Bert Campinaros Roles

Bert Campinaros knew that he was not as proficient in the outfield or at second or third base, but he willingly took up such positions as warranted by his team’s needs. Just as my exposure to the legal and financial constraints of running a startup made me a more conscientious and profit-driven sales leader, playing multiple infield positions made Bert a more proficient competitor. One gains increased appreciation of the proper throw to second base during a double play after being on the receiving end of a poor throw that causes a collision with a 220-pound base runner. 

Maximize Your Utility By Understanding Your Ability

There are a number of advantages, both to you individually and to your company, which arise from acting as a utility player.

Appreciation – By working in a number of different departments, you better understand the roles of your co-workers, thereby minimizing the risk of an “us vs. them” mentality arising. Performing a variety of roles helps you appreciate the challenges and frustrations faced by others in your organization, which, in turn, makes you a more considerate, empathetic and effective team-player.

Self-Awareness – Greater understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses lends one to form complimentary teams that allow you to fill in as a utility player in a particular role, in the manner that I shored up my CFO weaknesses.

Team Unity – Playing multiple positions reinforces your Humble Pride, as it requires you to perform duties that you cannot execute at an all-star level. Great utility players do this without hesitation, as they put the team’s performance above their own and thus are comfortable doing whatever it takes, irrespective of their ability to excel at a particular task.


Entrepreneurs and startup teams work more hours than nearly any other profession. Availability can mean significant travel, attending early or late meetings, as well as working remotely on the weekends and most holidays. Such availability gives entrepreneurs hours of hands-on practice, which ultimately augments their ability.

If the coach / CEO wants to put you in the game and you are not on the bench, ready to play, it does not matter how great you may be. As noted in the Whole Package, a superstar with an inability to show up on game day (mentally, attitudinally or physically) cannot contribute to their team’s success.

Available To All Who Matter

While enhancing your ability via your availability, make sure you also make yourself available to your loved ones. Budgeting discretionary time for yourself and your family should always balance your desire to be available to your startup. This is not simply altruistic advice, as being available to your company means that you can focus on getting results without being distracted by a problematic personal life.

Utility All Star

During three seasons, Bert Campaneris led the American League in sacrifice hits, in which a player forgoes his chance to reach base in order to advance the position of a teammate. The six-time All-star may never make Baseball’s Hall of Fame, but his selflessness, versatility and willingness to play any position asked of him greatly enhanced his “utility” to his teams over his long career. You can likewise augment the strength of your startup team by supplementing your core strengths with multiple utility positions.

John Greathouse has held a number of senior executive positions with successful startups during the past fifteen years, spearheading transactions which generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Copyright © 2007-11 by J. Meredith Publishing. All rights reserved.

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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