In the world of startups, you often don’t have the answers up front. There are a million unknowns which you have to figure out as you go along, and working in a startup environment often means there’s a lack of process and structure. These boundless structures of early stage companies often also attract certain type of personalities. People who thrive in some level of chaos where things are less formal and unpredictable, where creativity can shine and true innovation happens.
But as to everything beautiful, there’s a flip side. Within this unscripted environment startups can easily fall into a dangerous mindset which manifests itself through two different phrases:
“We’re just a small startup.“
“Things are moving so fast for us.”
Companies use these statements as exclusions to certain behaviors, often as a way to distant themselves from “being corporate”.
The truth is, these phrases are used as broad-stroke reasons to justify the lack of professionalism. They are simply symptoms of not working smart, intelligently or hard enough.
I see this behavior way too often, and I mistakenly used both statements myself. During a time when we were scaling Wrapp we hired new people across different functions and geographies every week.
I disregarded the importance of great onboarding for new hires and proactively didn’t articulate, align and teach the company culture.
I said to myself “things are moving so fast that we just need to get high-quality people in through the door and the rest we’ll figure out later…”
Lack of cultural alignment proved to be a big issue down the line, where people didn’t know what it meant to be part of “team Wrapp”. This was something which could have been avoided by a more proactive stance. I knew upfront about the importance of culture but I had mistakenly used speed as a justification to not invest into it.
Another example is how we in the beginning of our sales efforts thought “we’re just a small startup with a small team and we don’t need a sales process”. Months went by where we were unable to efficiently extract learnings from our sales efforts, and not until we started articulating what our ideal sales process looked like were we able to make improvements and iterations thereof.
Our small size was used to rationalize why we didn’t need to intelligently think through a critical business function.
It’s difficult to do everything in a startup and you have to prioritize. But recognize that you will only succeed if you step up your game. Whenever you hear either of these two sentences used as an explanation for anything, you need to start to worry and take action!
So here’s a simple 4 step plan to force yourself out of this dangerous mentality:
- Start small. Don’t overthink nor perfect before starting to use it. Think MVP (Minimum Viable Product) for all projects, processes, tools, systems, etc.
- Document and measure. Putting ideas into writing is a very powerful and often underestimated way of aligning people. And collecting data about how things are going is a requirement for #3.
- Validate and iterate. Based upon what you learn push yourself to redefine all aspects of your company into becoming smarter, more efficient and more effective. Never settle and constantly challenge any way you’re doing something. Remember, all people processes need to be redefined each time you double in team size from 5 to 10, from 10 to 20, from 20 to 40 and so on.
- Aim big. Whenever you lean towards excusing yourself as a startup say to yourself: We may be a startup, but we aspire to be the most professional well-run company in the world. You are small and early and you identify yourself as a startup. But you want to be a successful company. Your goal is to be the best!
This framework is not about becoming a boring corporate with restrictions on creativity and innovation. On the contrary creativity and innovation is, in fact, a huge part of it!
You win and become better than the rest…through creativity and innovation. Rock on and grow up! 💪 👊