What do you believe to be the most important factor in a startup? The vision? The leadership? The investors? The product itself?
Maybe it’s none of these things.
Writing for TechCrunch, Ron Miller argues that the most important part of a startup is none of these things. While undeniably important, it’s crucial that any fledgling entrepreneurial business focuses on the employees. It should go without saying that without a solid backbone, the company can fail. All too often an investor may be overly focused on the vision, ahead of the founder or founding team. But it can be argued that getting a company off the ground is the (relatively). A good enough idea, and sure, there shouldn’t be a problem attracting investors.
But what happens when that vision begins to grow and the company begins to expand? Most obviously, the central founding network needs to hire employees to keep the machine running. However, in a startup, management faces a unique goal. Unlike employees entering a well established business with a tested training program, clearly defined goals, metrics for employee success, and specialized departments, a startup essentially has to figure these components out as it goes along. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that can’t be created on the fly. With a startup, immediate goals are constantly changing as it is looking to define and optimize it’s business model. An ever changing target is not an excuse for ill defined objectives; if anything it is a fact that management has to adapt to, constantly adjusting their company and employee expectations as often as necessary.
The necessity of articulating a vision is way easier said than done, says Uwe Horstmann of Germany-based early stage investment firm Project A Ventures. In fact, it’s so crucial and difficult that Horstmann identifies it as a core quality founders need to receive their investment blessing. Part of why it’s so difficult is that is essentially an exercise in empathy. In a business environment, some may believe that empathy and business should not always mix. However, Horstmann says it’s key that employees and peripheral team members get involved. Too often, the inner workings of a company or it’s long term game plan are pools of knowledge limited only to the cofounders. But keeping this information from employees can lead them to feel isolated. Not only that, but it can lead to a sense of listlessness, and a question may arise, “what exactly am I working for?” On the flip side, sharing that information could be key to energizing your budding team and getting them pumped about the work they’re doing.
But it’s not only a matter of keeping employees in the loop. It’s also about hiring the right people. And it’s not necessarily a matter of skill, it’s also a matter of personality and mental flexibility. There may not be clearly defined departments when a startup first starts to hire new employees. As such, the early success of the company is tantamount to hiring workers who are not too specialized, because they may be needed to hop around the company. This goes hand in hand with the idea of the moving target. One day, they may have to be involved with more creative or developmental activities. The next may see a need to tie up some loose ends on the administrative side. Too much rigidity in an employee could be a hinderance when a startup has an “all hands on deck” mentality. As far as division of labor goes, there may simply not be enough people at the start to have someone responsible for a sole task or duty.
At the end of the day, Tim Wegner, co founder at Project A-back Minodes, says that it’s ok for there to be some internal division amongst the founders. Just make sure that whatever you decide on, it is shared with the employees, so that everyone has the same mentality going forward.