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Turning Age and Gender Into Business Strengths
Sun Run Co-Founder Lynn Jurich explains her approach to managing the startup’s growth, with lessons for other young women who are running fast-growing ventures
By Karen E. KleinA research analysis released last month by the Kauffman Foundation explains why few women are starting or running high-growth tech companies and suggests ways to narrow the gap. One outlier female entrepreneur is Lynn Jurich, 32-year-old co-founder of SunRun, a residential solar company in San Francisco that she projects will have $385 million in revenue this year. Jurich spoke recently withSmart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein about leading the four-year-old startup, improving management skills, and learning from employees. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
Karen E. Klein: You’re in a pretty unusual position in the U.S. as a young, female president of a clean-energy startup. Is it intimidating to be in a culture dominated by older businessmen?
Lynn Jurich: No. I think it could be intimidating, but the way I look at it is: I am young but I know we have a good business and I’m motivated by the goal of making this a very successful, broader energy company.I use my age and gender something like a weapon: It disarms people.
What advice do you give other women who aspire to what you’re doing?
Hire people who are smarter than you and don’t be afraid to work with them as partners. Make it clear that you plan to learn from them, not just the other way around.The right, smart, motivated people respond very well to that approach, particularly coming from a younger manager like I am. For a lot of people, it’s refreshing to hear from a founder.Is it unusual for entrepreneurs to acknowledge that they can learn from their employees?
For a lot of people, one of the reasons they don’t like to work for founders of startups is that they can be sensitive and protective around what they’ve built. You have an emotional attachment to the early marketing and technology materials and you don’t want to hear that anything’s wrong with them.
I have to be completely unafraid to let someone new come in and scrap what I’ve done. I’ve not held any emotional attachment to anything I’ve built.
How do you get that across to your employees?
When you’re growing as fast as we have—around 200 percent last year—we have done a lot of things just to get by.
Every single person that comes on board, when I interview them, I tell them: “You’re going to see some things and wonder why we do it this way. I consider it your responsibility to make suggestions and challenge the way we’re doing things.”
This is how you get the best ideas out of people.
Do you have a routine that helps you cope with the day-to-day job of running a business?
I focus on the most important issues early in the morning. If you’re a morning person, that’s a good way to do it, but you have to know your individual cycle in order to be effective. You need to establish healthy habits early on or else you can get burned-out really fast.
For instance, I take a little quiet time each morning to focus on one key thing I need to do to advance this business. Your day can get away from you so quickly otherwise.
On Sundays, I like to plan how I want to exit the week and what are the key things I need to get done that week. I list them, and then I do check-ins on them each morning.
How much does being decisive factor into your management style?
I think you should be thoughtful about your decisions, but don’t hedge on them for too long. In order to move a business forward, you have to set a plan.
When you over-think something, you can get paralyzed. You have to accept the fact that not all your decisions are going to be right—and when they are wrong, you have to own it right away.
I try not to have an emotional connection or investment in the decisions I make so that when they need to change, I can quickly move on to: “How do we fix this?”
Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.