As a startup founder you need to juggle 1000 jobs at once. Eventually your team will grow and it becomes possible to delegate some of those tasks. While this may seem like a godsend, for many it turns into an unstructured, unscalable mess. I have a few small steps you can take at this early stage to introduce a loose structure to your organisation.
Are you creating a monster?
A while back I got in touch with a previous client. He had founded as startup that seemed to be growing nicely, funding was in place and the team was growing. I was looking forward to hearing the secret to his success. So what came back surprised me!
Essentially, he said, he had created a monster that was about to devour him. He was struggling to control the organisation and was overwhelmed by the complexity of juggling an abundance of different business tasks. What was particularly interesting was that things were getting worse the bigger his startup became.
That, right there, is a tell tale warning sign: when things get worse as they scale, then it’s a clear sign that essential underlying structures and processes are missing.
So, what can you do about it?
Firstly, if you are already in this situation, then you must STOP! I don’t mean give up – but stop trying to make it work with the current setup. Do you think you can still make it work by simply working harder or being a bit more organised? There is a word for that thought, it’s called DENIAL!
I’m not trying to be unkind here (this is tech hugs after all!) – but it’s essential that your brain accepts that change is required to make this work in the future!
Change is possible, if you take active steps towards it.
So if you’re already fighting fires, then stop. Pause is perhaps a better word. Take time to create the necessary underlying structure. It might take a few weeks to get there – but these few weeks will allow you a long future ahead. If you don’t take action, you’re likely to go under in the next few months (or, at the latest, when the next jump in scaling occurs).
Underlying business structure allows you to scale
The beauty of structure in your business is that it allows you to create scalable processes.
It’s a bit like software development: well understood processes and workflows can be automated. In people terms this means easy hiring, easy delegation and easy scaling. Need more sales? Add another member to execute the sales process. Need more production capacity? Add another member to execute the production process.
While this might seem boring and predictable to you, this approach allows you to scale the business. When everything depends on your own expertise, or most decisions are made on the hoof, then you don’t establish repeatable business practices. And it’s this lack of repeatability and lack of delegation that eventually creates the monster that threatens to devour you.
Putting structure in place
So how can you put structure in place?
Here are some ideas:
1. Be aware which hat you’re wearing
Even though you might only be a 5 person team, you are likely doing about 20 separate jobs between you. Wearing different hats is part and parcel of startup culture. Where you can make a real difference is by being hyper-aware when you are wearing those different hats. This awareness will lead you to creating a well structured organisation. So the next time you’re doing marketing, say to yourself: Now I’m working as the marketing manager. Next time you’re doing sales: Now I’m working on sales. The awareness will show you the true nature and complexity of the business.
2. Document repeating tasks
When you find yourself carrying out the same task multiple times, write a description of it as you go. The next time you need to do the task, hand the description over to someone else. They tweak it and it now becomes a process that almost anybody can carry out. Easy delegation and no training overheads.
3. Write an org chart and job description
Omce you’ve done steps 1 and 2 for a while,the structure of your business will start to emerge.
Sit down with your team and draw an organisation chart that shows all the different roles you’re taking on already.
Take the chance to see whether roles are fairly distributed across your team. Does anybody have more or less responsibility than the others? Is everybody playing to their strengths?
Your written task documents easily turn into job descriptions for each role within your company. This makes hiring and training a breeze – no need to figure out what a new joiner should do, you’ve already written it down!
Evolve as you grow
While you’re firefighting and scrabbling to set up your business, it might feel like a waste to spend time on organisational structure. However it is an essential part of enabling growth – leave it too late and you may never recover.
Documenting your business structures doesn’t need to be time consuming. You can integrate it into the natural evolution of your company.
Once you understand a part of your business, document it and hand it over to somebody else.
This becomes a continuous process that slowly transforms your seat-of-your-pants struggle into a well structured enterprise that has a chance to scale far into the future.