Starting Up with Friends: Cronyism vs Professionalism
A little background on us, I’m a tech startup founder based in Singapore, and I’ve been on this journey with my friends for a couple of years, starting with social entrepreneurship programs to designing and printing tees, couple of simple apps and then finally an idea that encompasses all of our beliefs — Outside.
Similar to most startups stories, we began as a group of friends hacking away in our “garage”, bonding and creating a product that we are passionate about. And similar to their stories, we also lived through the tough parts of pivoting our original idea into something more focused and even losing crucial team members due to incompatibility or their lack of ability to commit.
That brings me to my awesome team filled with my favourite people from different parts of my life — I knew Jin since we were 11, Dion and Tristan when we were 13 and LuXian when we were serving in the army (K9 unit) together.
Despite most of us being friends for more than a decade, we still had underlying interpersonal issues when it came down to working together. I believe that tension between members are inevitable and it ultimately comes down to the commitment and effort the members put in to compromise and collaborate.
Our team started out super laid back, meeting during our free time and spending late nights after school to draw out designs, functions and to test out concepts. But everyone’s priorities were all over the place when we were working that way, we did not have full attendance most of the time and there was a lack of communication between every member. That’s until we got into Found.’s Elevate program and we started working till the last available transport in their amazing Prinsep space. Although we were working hard, we quickly realised that the long working hours is not equivalent to productivity and most of us were burning out and it indirectly resulted in friction between the members.
In an attempt to ensure that the team is productive and aligned, we collectively agreed to put in systems to make it more professional. We started by agreeing on work hours and made use of free technological solutions to enable communication, collaboration and management. Using this solutions, we then started trying out OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and weekly reports.
We started by building an all encompassing communication channel using Slack and began sharing folders of documents and digital assets on Google Drive. We then set up our top 3 objectives for the week after Monday morning meetings and update our Trello board accordingly, this will then be compiled on Friday and updated on a dedicated “Weekly Report” channel on Slack.
The combination of exceptional individuals will only result in extraordinary synergy if they are willing and able to work together, it will be optimal to allocate time for the team to speak up about what they feel about each other and work on it together as a team. It is also crucial that the team knows that every argument is “Us against the problem” and not “ You against Me”.
The Outside of today is shaped after the way the team works and behaves in general. “Bad” (public opinion) jokes and “awkward” (public opinion) humour which are reflected on our name, tagline, write-ups and marketing collateral and of course our mascot Outron — not to be mixed up with the evil super robot that fought against The Avengers.
In summary, the best way to handle potential cronyism is to draw lines for professional decisions and duties. Know when to say “No” when it comes to work and make sure that the team is still able to have fun Outside work hours.
For the newer startups out there who are still trying to find the perfect team and/or have a dysfunctional team, I hope this article helps out a little! If possible, try to reach out to founders/mentors who are further down the road and seek for their input. I was very lucky to have be given the opportunity to meet up with many amazing founders and individuals (not going to start name-dropping) who are willing to share their experience with me and gave some advice on how things could be done better.
And for the experienced individuals who are willing to share their inputs on how the Outside team is managed and how we can improve, please do! I will be happy to learn more about managing the team better and how we can grow better as a team. Leave a comment below or drop me a private message and I will get back to you!