Greg Marsh: A letter to my younger CEO Self


Scale-Up Investors

Greg Marsh: A letter to my younger CEO Self

Greg Marsh left Index Ventures to start onefinestay, a business that lets travellers enjoy hotel services in beautiful homes while the owners are out of town. Having scaled to a team of over 700, the company was acquired by AccorHotels in 2016 in a deal worth more than $250m. Following its acquisition Greg stepped down as CEO and Chairman.

In 2017, Greg joined the faculty at Harvard Business School as a Senior Lecturer affiliated with the Entrepreneurial Management Unit where he taught the first year MBA course on entrepreneurship. He is also a visiting professor at Imperial College Business School. Greg was a co-author of the 2017 Taylor review of modern working practices, commissioned by the British Prime Minister. Greg sits on several boards including Lyvly, a co-living business, and APCOA, Europe’s largest car park operator. In 2017, he was elected to the International Board of Amnesty International, where he also chairs the Remuneration Committee.

Dear Greg,

Congratulations for finally resigning from Index Ventures to start your new business, onefinestay. What took you so long?

I thought I’d share a bit of advice earned the expensive way that might help as you leave the dark side of venture capital for the sunlit upland (ex tenebris lux, and all that).

Index was more helpful to you than you might credit. You got some good insights into how some of the better entrepreneurs think, and you now have some sense for what good looks like. But actually running a company is a different thing entirely.

Stop editing; start writing

As an investor, your job was to select the shiniest things from a panoply of shiny things. That’s meant being sceptical, analytical, and discriminating as you sought reasons to say ‘no.’ As an entrepreneur, you must win options before you exclude them. That is less cerebral and it requires a different part of yourself. It’ll take exercise to build up that muscle.

Be patient with yourself

If entrepreneurship is a creative pursuit, then recognise creative work is often lonely, tiring, and hard. Acknowledge the effort that the first draft demands of you, and that you will often fall short. Be patiently impatient with yourself as you re-write. ‘Writing is re-writing,’ Hemmingway said – oh, and, ‘the first draft of anything is shit.’

Do what you love

You won’t have the capacity to do everything. You, Greg, enjoy conceptual thinking, problem-solving, coaching your team. Because you enjoy those things, you’ll get better at them. That’s good for you and for the company. Double down.

Delegate what you hate (where possible)

There are many things you don’t enjoy which you can delegate. Admin, for instance. Do that earlier than you think necessary. Hiring a PA isn’t a luxury, it makes you more available to your team and frees up your time for more strategic stuff. However there are some things you can’t delegate: For instance, you’ll spend a ton of time raising money. It’s miserable and you’ll resent it. But it has to happen, and it’s your job as CEO. So get it done and move on.

Look after yourself

Building anything worth building is very hard indeed. It will take its toll. Find people to support you. That takes effort, but it’s a wise investment. Recruit a board chair you can turn to when times get tough. Someone to help with investors and who can advise in tough times will make you a better leader, and better leaders build better businesses.

Seriously. Look after yourself

Put down roots for your personal support now, before you start your climb in earnest. And then nurture those roots as you scale the upper branches. The highs are high, but the lows are very low indeed, and you don’t need to endure them alone.

Be careful what you wish for

You may fail. That will suck, but you’ll survive and you’ll have learnt a ton by the effort. If you’re going to fail, fail as fast as you can. On the other hand, you may succeed. That presents its own challenges. Success can be risky, it can be fickle, it can beguile you and mislead you, and it can distract you. As Oscar had it, ‘When the gods want to punish us, they answer our prayers.’ But that’s a tomorrow problem.

Good luck. Stay in touch.



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