Rhythm in Start-Ups

Creative genius needs structure to “get things done”

Feliks Eyser
Sep 16, 2019 · 7 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Illustrations handmade with ❤ by Ariane Frida Sofie

Orchestras and jazz bands

While the IBM behemoth of an orchestra is perfectly structured and organized to the bones, your jazz band is refreshingly chaotic and the music excitingly unpredictable. With the orchestra, you’ll get what you expect. In your jam session, you never know if you’ll produce the next hit or the whole group falls apart before the second verse.

The one thing they share

Other art forms follow similar rules. Architects create a rhythm through light and shade. Painters through colors and shapes. Gardeners use a grid. Dancers time their movements. Actors make pauses. Art is often esthetic when it follows a pattern. Rhythm is everywhere.

Rhythm in start-ups

So how do you as a bandleader (also known as CEO) create a structure within the chaos and dictate a rhythm to your band?

Structure and speed

Through painstaking trial and error, I learned over time that the creative process in a start-up needs structure — just like a beautiful song needs a rhythm. It will make the music sound appealing and enables you to get things done more quickly. Good structure speeds your company up.

The tool to create rhythm: the calendar

In a rowing boat, you’re faster when everyone rows in the same intervals. In a jazz session, the music will sound nicer when everyone follows the rhythm. In your start-up, you’ll get a lot more done when you establish a routine of recurring events through your calendar.

Draw the rhythm like the composer you are

Let’s go and..

Image for post
Image for post

Yearly

  • Budget-planning for next year in Q3/Q4.
  • Yearly kickoff event in January (especially with sales teams).
  • Christmas and summer party. Always a good idea to celebrate and give a strategy update.
  • Internal hackathon/internal “startup weekend”. Our people always loved it.
  • Celebrate your company’s birthday! I forgot about this all the time in the first years.
  • Adjust salaries. Much better if this is done yearly (or twice a year) on fixed dates instead of “on-demand”.
  • Recruiting events such as parties in the office. We used to host such events roughly every six months.

Quarterly

  • 1–3-day workshop to define new OKRs, possibly right after the founder retreat. We did this with the management team and later had the managers do the same with their teams. This might be the most important rhythmic event to steer your organization.
  • Investor/board meetings. Possibly in the first two weeks of the last month of the quarter. This way you have a full month more of data and can use the input of the meetings for founder retreats & OKR off-sites.
  • Customer events. Invite them to the office to gather first-hand product feedback.

Ok, next. Take another sheet and draw 5 boxes for each week of the month. Here, you can add monthly (and weekly) events.

Image for post
Image for post

Monthly

  • Give a CEO-/management update in an all-hands meeting. We started to host all-hands meetings every two weeks and reduced the frequency over time.
  • Send out investor reporting and take time to actively reflect on the last months’ progress.
  • Discuss monthly KPIs in the management meeting.
  • Book club: Read books with your team once a month, a healthy rhythm to discuss content. We usually spread 1 book over 3–4 monthly meetings.
  • Fun/social event with the entire team. From volleyball to bowling to attending the local Beerfest (remember, I’m German!) and celebrating Halloween, we tried to offer one employee event per month.

Lastly, take your third sheet and add 5 boxes for each day of the week to add your weekly and daily events.

Image for post
Image for post

Weekly

  • Every manager has a staff meeting with their team
  • Founders/management meeting
  • Possibly weekly update email from the CEO
  • Closing the week with drinks (or Oreo cookies)
  • Daily stand up/huddle in each team
  • Daily tracking of relevant KPIs (especially in marketing/sales functions)

Adjust to your needs and make it happen!

Now you have three magical music sheets for your startup’s rhythm and one task remaining: Make sure the events actually happen!

Pianists are not judged by the structure of the notes on their sheet but by the beauty of the music they actually play. It is your job as CEO to ensure that the meetings actually take place. Make sure your team understands the necessity of those recurring events. Put them in your digital calendars and make sure they are honored. Notice when your rhythm is “off” and correct course.

As CEO, part of your job is to “inspect what you expect”. So expect that you and your team play the notes of your calendar and inspect that they actually do.

I hope you enjoy the process and create a beautiful opera!

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +755K people. Follow to join our community.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store