November 19, 2015

It Takes A Village to Raise A Start-Up

When you reach the village and city stage, a few things have occurred with the business (hopefully). Mainly you have found a product-market fit and are ready to prepare to press the gas or are ready to press it. To prepare to press the gas, I understood this as hiring the next few members that could act as generalists or specialists, as well as provide a network or ability to hire. Also in preparing to accelerate, solving any obvious organizational or technical debt is wise. Once you are ready to press the gas and accelerate, prepare for common issues with non-mechanical solutions.

Some of those issues that I am most familiar with deal with human expectations and relationships. As you grow and build departments, most leaders want to promote their most loyal members internally. The issue of generalist vs. specialist continues to battle on. Some of your previous members simply do not accelerate as specialists, so if they are not willing to make the shift this can be difficult. This is where hiring comes into play – this is a repeated theme by just about every guest speaker. Finding the best team is just as crucial if not more important than the product itself. Your new staff needs to be passionate about your product and be able to provide the fill for the gaps that exist. Most companies seem to have a specific way of hiring, and all my research tells me that this technique matches the culture. For example, I write what I believe the role will be, what problems they will face, and how we normally go about coming up with solutions. If they can relate to those things, it is a good indicator that they might be a good fit. Something else I have learned is that if someone does not feel right from the first interview, they probably never will be. There are exceptions to this rule, but it is very rare. For the sake of growth, I would stick to it.

PSHEOne thing I found surprisingly helpful was the PSHE chart that Shishir Mehrotra uses to understand what level each person is currently at within their abilities. The acronym stands for Problem, Solution, How, and Execution. Usually, members start at the PSHE level and get a problem with a solution, how to solve the problem and its execution. As they move up the chart, an element is removed, and they end up at the top level where their only role is to define problems. For example, a new staff member will be told four things to act on and execute, however as they progress up within the company, it is possible their main job is simply to identify problems and work with the team to create solutions. Again this proves why it is so important to take your time in recruiting the right team. I do want to stress that taking time is more important for management and executive roles. If you are hiring a lower skill level job such as customer service or massive sales team, you can sacrifice higher churn for growth. Understanding the role is as important as who you put in it.

So, once you hire your new team and/or promote/shift your current staff, it is now time to address some other dilemmas. Setting the core values and communicating the vision is something that helps ensure everyone is aiming at the same target. Secondly, solidifying objectives so everyone is clear ensures that your team can make decisions with autonomy that is consistent with the vision. This is done with recurring company-wide emails, daily stand-up meetings, and monthly strategy reviews. Depending on your team everyone seems to have a different style to fulfil this need. I usually test a method, and if it works, we repeat it until it does not. I say this because at some stages different techniques are more efficient than others. Stand-up meetings are great for small teams, after a certain size it’s best to make it a morning announcement.

All that being said, hiring and managing people will always be the hardest part of scaling. This is true because humans are psychological beings each unique to their own character. Even when setting a culture and vision, listen to everyone and to build a system that gives individuals personal attention to allow them to succeed.