Operating an Early Stage Startup

How To Operate A Business
September 4, 2019
Interview with Simon Litvinov
September 18, 2019

Startups can be chaotic – especially in the beginning. When you step into the entrepreneurial world, you’ll ideally do it with a small core team. By the very nature of a upcoming business, your co-founders will be doing everything they can to get things off the ground. But it’s crucial that you know which tasks to focus on. Having a clear understanding of what you’re doing and where you’re going is key in this critical stage. And there is no better way of achieving this than by setting priorities.

Cornering the Market

Perhaps the most important focal point that needs to be established from Day One is the Product. You need to be developing something that people will love, that will be used on a regular basis, and that your customers will want to share with their friends and family.

In addition, you need to find your Product-Market-Fit. Simply put, this means having a product that satisfies a strong market demand. To find the optimal niche for your product, you need to work on its adaptability. Getting feedback from your customers, analysing data from the market, testing hypothesis and iterating will all help you to find your PMF, which should be done before you scale your business.

This is most easily done with a small team, as it allows you to make fast decisions and capitalize on your insights much faster than large corporate entities. Ensure that you make the most of your startup’s strengths.

Skillsets and Values

It is vital that you learn your team’s strengths and assign the right person to the right job. By defining your founders’ roles early on, you will identify your team’s skill gaps and shortcomings, as well as the fields they can thrive in.

Thus, by understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses, you will know which areas require new hires, as well as what skills are needed to round out the company.

Although you will not be looking to hire people right at the very start, as this would be disruptive and would reduce your runway/increase your operating costs, you should pay attention to your hiring and company values from Day One.

Be clear on what your values are. By understanding what your company’s culture should be like and ensuring that the people you work with share that vision, you will safeguard your startup from an untimely demise. The lack of a unifying and consistent culture can dismember your company as members try to go in different directions. Inner conflict can kill your company, so do your best to avoid it.

Financial Security

It goes without saying, but you need to keep an eye on your finances so that you don’t go bankrupt. Finding good investors and building a strong product will both help you to keep on track until you achieve a self-sustaining model.

From Theory to Practice

To put this advice into practice, you need to organize your team. The EO Framework is ideal for this, as it is a simple method of making the most of your core founding team in an efficient manner. The first thing you need to do is to split the team into Five Core Functions:

  1. Sales and Marketing;
  2. Operations;
  3. Finance and Admin;
  4. Integrator;
  5. Visionary;

The key here is that each function should only be held by a single person, and that you establish weekly check-in meetings no longer than 90 minutes. Further, only your core team members should attend this meeting, to keep it as brief and efficient as possible.

The session starts with each person stating their expectations for the meeting.

Then, you check the core metrics. These will be things such as user growth, or cash in the account, and you write them out on a scoreboard so that everyone can clearly view the information.

After that, you should check your quarterly goals. These updates should be short, 2 to 3 minutes per area, with no room for comments or discussion.

Once that is done, you move to check last week’s to-do list. Again, this is strictly a status check, so answers must be black and white.

With the updates laid out, you can move onto the core of the meeting: the issue list. This is where people can bring up their issues, the challenges they’re facing, the things that they would like the discuss with the team. Essentially, you go around the table and take people’s perspective on the company’s progress.

Then, you must prioritize and sort these issues out by order of importance. This will ensure that you deal with the most pressing matters first and do not run out of time.

After taking all these steps, you can finally start discussing and finding solutions for the problems. This is the fundamental difference, compared to most team meetings: they don’t last very long, they are transparent, they get everyone on the same page, and they allow the team to solve problems together, therefore strengthening the whole company.

Once the allotted 60 minutes for discussion elapse, you can assemble the to-do list, which will assign a person to a specific task with a due date.

You conclude by summarizing the to-do list and deciding if you need to communicate any new information to the rest of the company. Finally, the meeting ends with each person ranking the meeting from 1 to 10.

Ideally, you should do this on a weekly basis, on the same day of the week, at the same time. This will help to create a very healthy habit in your company. By having short meetings that cut to the point and get the whole team to work together for the greater good of the company, you are left with the means to focus on a lightning fast execution during the week.

This, in turn, will help you achieve so much more than companies who waste time and money on dreadfully long meetings.

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