Let’s imagine you’re finally getting off that couch and building that company you’ve always dreamed of. One that sells non-embarrassing gym clothing to people who desperately need the gym. (Like me. Probably you too.) You’ve been smart about this and wasted no time in setting up a great looking DIY website. You have a couple of co-founders who share your passion for gym wear (and loathing for exercise). You even have a small seed fund that helps you get the basics in place – a small office, suppliers, a few employees, the works.
So you’re all set to beat the Lululemons of the world?
Maybe not. Because, as every entrepreneur knows, a successful startup is not about getting all the pieces of a puzzle together. It’s about getting all those disparate pieces to work together in a creative yet efficient manner.
As someone who’s been there and done that, here’s what I learnt on startup success.
- Wear Multiple Hats
A startup is by definition just starting out in its life as a business. Most startups are characterized by their lean, mean structure where every individual wears multiple hats. This is a core strength I have noticed in most startups. Not only does it reduce the financial burden of employing more and more dedicated personnel at a stage where the company is just starting out, it also makes sure that most employees become multi-talented and learn new skills.
By performing more than just one function, startup employees tend to work closely with nearly every other team member, thus hardwiring teamwork and a sense of camaraderie into the organization right at the very beginning. This may be one reason why founding team members often go on to blaze leadership trails for themselves in the future. Only 7 of the 21 original “Googlers” remain at Google. The rest are now startup founders, angel investors and senior corporate leaders in their own right.
- Recruit For Passion, Skills Can Be Learnt
This is an extension of the previous section. When recruiting new employees for your startup, don’t focus too closely at very specific skills that the employee has. Chances are they’re going to do a lot more than just use that one skill, anyway.
Focus instead on the passion that they have for your product or line of work. Are they genuinely interested in your business? Do they envision a future for themselves in your industry? Is it just a job to them or is it a stepping stone in a career in the field? Pick only those candidates that qualify as passionate about your business with the enough smarts to learn multiple skills and grow in their roles.
- Share and Grow
A startup does not grow by holding all the cards close to your chest. A small team means information will travel. Trying to stifle that natural flow of information within your team will kill whatever camaraderie you hope will be built in the future. Instead, when employees feel like they are trusted with the future plans of the organization, they feel more invested in the company and get a clearer direction on why they’re doing what they’re doing.
I don’t mean that every single detail about your startup must be shared with everyone. News about important developments, key projects that you’re about to start, celebration of personal victories all are legitimate things that must be shared with your team. Work together on projects with a shared inbox that works as a conduit for all project related communication. Use instant messaging to reach your team on any device, even if they’re not on their desks.
- Openness with Seclusion Built In
Sharing extends to sharing the same air as the rest of the mere mortals in your startup. Ditch the temptation to set yourself up in a fancy corner office and opt for an open floor plan for your office. A democratic setup at least from an architectural perspective creates an environment of open communication, easier collaboration, fewer “class divides” and overall speeding up of work. When employees know that everyone can see everything they do, they tend to do things that they don’t mind everybody seeing. Bye, bye hours wasted on social media.
However, an open floor plan does not mean absolutely no private spaces. Sometimes you just need a quiet place to think without the chaos and action of the main work floor. Create little escape zones that enable some alone time and focused working. Why, you could even take a hint from that most successful startup of them all – Google – and build little nap-pods where your employees can take quick catnaps and recharge their batteries.
- Crowdsource Ideas
Ideas are nobody’s exclusive territory. Sometimes it’s not your lead designer or your product management team that comes up with that brilliant life-changing idea. It could be someone from customer care who’s heard umpteen customers complain about the same little things. The best ideas sometimes come from turning problems around on their heads and could come from the most unexpected sources.
Unleash your startup’s creative juices by encouraging each and every employee to share their best ideas on growing the business. You could do this in many different ways. From setting aside a certain percentage of office hours for “creative pursuits” to announcing organizational priorities for the month and inviting ideas, to creating an “idea wall” where employees can come and share their ideas anonymously without any judgement, the opportunities are endless.
- Set Constraints
When we see the fancy sprawling offices of tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and the like, budding entrepreneurs are inspired to build similar drool-worthy office spaces. Places where employees would refuse to leave from. However, there’s one key aspect that we often forget. None of these companies started out with those lavish pads. Most started in dorm rooms, garages or dinky little offices that grew to become plush and massive only after they tasted success.
Use this as a guiding principle in everything your startup does. Think lean when it comes to the luxuries that you’d like to have. The little things add up and have a tendency to become big things pretty quickly if you’re not careful enough. So say “Yes” to the economy tickets, choose the free or trail versions of software as long as possible, go with the supplier who quotes lower (everything else being nearly equal), work out of less-than-great office spaces when you’re starting out. Let the basic theme of your startup be “stay hungry and keep the costs down.”
Tracy Vides is a content marketer and social media consultant who works with small businesses and startups to increase their visibility. Her posts on marketing and entrepreneurship can be found on Steamfeed, Business2Community, Tech Cocktail, and elsewhere. Connect with her on Twitter @TracyVides for a tête-à-tête!