I have spent a few years in a start-up company and have encountered so many others along the way. Experiencing start-ups encourages you to change how you work because the fundamental difference between start-ups and established companies is that the bottom line is more fragile for the former. Because of that, there is higher value for time and better appreciation on how things are done. So here are the 10 things that start-ups taught me but don’t just consider it as a listicle. As you go through these, make the effort to look at how you do things in your own work and figure out how you can make it better and why you want to do so.
1. Time is short
Answering emails takes 2 hours, figuring out your tasks takes about 30 minutes, answering unexpected phone calls and attending unscheduled meetings takes another 2 hours, admin work takes up another hour. That leaves you with merely 3 hours for actual productive work. Time is short and there never is enough time to meet your deadlines for the day. Start-ups know this because time is essential for launching products while they are in season, closing a sale while discussions are still hot and generating leads while manpower is still available. This is why start-ups actively discover and create their own habits in approaching each day and using up their work hours. They figure out when is the best time of day and days of the week when they are most productive. That way, no time is wasted and all investments lead to achieving the common goal.
2. Value of meetings
Meetings are essential to introduce both parties to each other, discuss business models, come-up with possible partnership campaigns, to discuss details of these and to iron out any misunderstandings along the way. Meetings are never, never, never necessary for every step of the project. Never! If you tend to request for a meeting every step of the way, it reflects on your weakness for thinking and making decisions. It also shows lack of trust. If you do not trust the other party and you have a cause to do so, then it’s not a series of meetings that you need. What you need is an evaluation of the partnership and your roles.
3. Urgent can wait
Each person has a different work pace and prioritizes projects and tasks differently. This means that anything that may be asked of you is urgent because (1) they may be needed at any time, (2) they don’t want you, or anyone involved in the project, to cause delay and (3) they don’t want to have to follow-up. This clashes with your own pace and your own priorities. The result, a whole lot of overtime and stress that could have been avoided. The solutions: set and agree to timelines, discuss priorities and show genuine concern for the goal, understand the roles of the other parties involved and understand yours to avoid pointing fingers when something goes wrong. In a simpler sense, say when you can deliver and make sure you deliver on time.
4. Process flows are necessary
There are established frameworks and step-by-step methods in creating your brand voice, theme, guidelines for graphics, marketing, social media, operations, accounting, payroll, HR concerns, hiring, customer service, even troubleshooting. Use them. Start-up operations are usually lean leaving operations, sales, marketing and admin to a handful of people. Awareness of each other’s roles and tasks are commonplace. This helps lighten the load of those who are struggling to complete theirs and pick-up from those who may be unavailable.
5. Adjust as needed
Bigger companies rarely have time to make adjustments to established processes. If they do, it takes a while for an ineffective process to hurt revenues and for real change to take place. The beauty of start-ups is that there is enough room and time to keep things flexible and to adjust processes as the company’s experiences grow. Start-ups employees are conscious of flagging each other when certain practices are no longer working and take it upon themselves to find and experiment on new approaches. They don’t settle with “that’s how it’s always been done”. They look at resources (manpower, skills, time, software, etc.) match these with tasks that need to be accomplished to meet goals and figure out the best way on how to go about the tasks to get the best results. The “how” is never fixed. The “how” is a constant learning process because markets change, customers change, competitors disrupt. So to make the “how” as relevant and effective as it can be, you have to adjust.
6. Customers are important
Every sale counts for start-ups because the brand’s word of mouth is still very sensitive to every customer’s experience. Tech start-ups are the recent case studies on customer service best practices because they know that a customer’s feedback is true for that customer and will set a precedent to future sales influenced by that person. More established companies lose temper, ignore or take too long to respond to customer complaints. They’ve encountered so many customer feedback that they already fail to see the value of the customer and fail to see themselves as customers who expect nothing but the best when it comes to their purchase.
Start-ups rarely have a budget set-aside for annual training so employees take it upon themselves to learn. They maximize free resources online often offered by tech company leaders. There is always fresh resource on SEO, traditional marketing reach, planning for cost-effective events, planning for annual marketing campaigns, etc. Not only will self-learn help you meet your targets better, it also helps you be better at what you do and learn more than what you experience.
8. Respect is shared
Respect is given because there is common trust that everyone does their part in achieving the company’s goals. Respect is shared because there is an understanding of each other’s capabilities and limitations. Respect is not demanded, nor is it required because of your position.
9. Your value is not equal to your title
How you complete your job and how much you contribute to help the start-up company make it, define your value in the start-up. It is never about your title or your job description. In fact, it is in start-ups that you are reminded that you were hired because of your experience and work ethic but you are being paid because of the contribution that is expected of you (not because of your past achievements.
10. Love your brand
Because employees of start-ups were there in its incubation, in its many firsts and were there to resolve more and more difficult situations, they grow to love the brand naturally and believe in what it stands for. They see the brand’s good side. They listen to every negative feedback and work to resolve them. They watch out for possible competitors and determine how they can beat them to the punch. There is genuine love for the brand and they become its true and first ambassadors.
Start-ups’ charm can never compete with the stability and know-hows of established corporations. Job security, career progression and wealth of learnings are expected of these companies and if done right, conscientious employees make the best of them. Whether you work in a small firm, in a company that’s been there before you were born, in your family business, in a neighbourhood store or in a start-up, I hope that these learnings help you look at your role and in what you do with fresh eyes. Things can be done and targets can be met with less stress, less politics and less overtime. Just like start-ups, begin with your own team, unit or department – determine the tasks to achieve those targets and set the ways on how to go about them based on the resources that you have. Continue on reading and learning and adjust your processes when necessary. Use established frameworks to help you do that. Develop habits that will make you and your team use time more efficiently and develop appreciation for the brand and its stakeholders.