In a startup, founders and small teams wear many hats. There's a lot to do, and not enough funding to hire dedicated people. And that's probably a smart move.
At the beginning these shared roles help save money, but the benefit shrinks as the startup grows. So while it may be an effective strategy to have your initial team juggle roles and responsibilities, the advantage will eventually wind down and may even become a disadvantage as time passes. Ask yourself these questions before you find your team unfocused and hurting your growth:
- Where is your startup heading?
- What is the growth strategy?
- Are we prepared looking to stay lean and juggle priorities?
- What culture is needed to ensure the growth phase is not sabotaged by a chaotic work flow?
Why Juggling Is Sweet
Minimizing your costs is in many cases smart at the beginning. A startup's purpose is to find a business model, and often the financing comes at the founder's expense. It may not make sense to hire a marketing expert and tack on a $45K or more employee expense if your goal is to do customer research and develop your MVVVP (Minimum Viable Valuable Validated Product); more on an MVVVP below.
Startups seek rock star players that can be a jack of all trades. The founder is probably the CEO, Sales Director, and Brand Ambassador all at once. The COO may also juggle the Marketing VP and Community Manager roles. This probably a reason why finding a cofounder is recommended by entrepreneurial leaders like Guy Kawasaki. Chances are, it will work, and you'll hit the sweet spot of minimizing cost and maximizing productivity.
Successful companies are usually started, and become successful, with the contributions of at least two people.
- Guy Kawasaki |
However, all good things must come to a close, and they do.
When Hat Juggling Turns Sour
These hat jugglers have a primary role, and they branch out into other areas based on the the company’s needs and gaps. This culture of juggling actually begins to hurt the company when a person becomes overwhelmed and unable to focus on the primary role.
We call these folks proxy workers, like a "proxy product owner" or a "proxy marketer." It isn't out of disrespect for what they are doing. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It is acknowledging that they are playing a role outside of their organization and taking on extra work that is very important to its success.
Hat juggling hurts your startup when a person becomes overwhelmed and less focused on the primary role.
- Steven Rodriguez |
As the company expands, the need for these different proxy hats will grow and bog down your rock star's time. When the COO is spending hours on manual data input instead of identifying workflow issues that slow down the business, you know you have a problem. Did you hire a COO to do manual input, or to keep your business in tip top shape?
What startups should keep in mind as they grow is that proxy work is beneficial up to a certain point until it becomes a drain on your work flow. Being able to adapt is as much about the customer as it is about your team's productivity.
If you aren't familiar with the MVVVP model, it is Guy Kawasaki's take on Minimum Viable Product (MVP) long before Steve Blank and Eric Ries popularized it. For more information, check out the Startup Grind exclusive interview with Guy, starting at 21m13s.
P.S. If you feel overwhelmed with all your roles, then check out these three traits 10 Tips For Marketing Your Startup Globally to find some happiness in the chaos of startups.
This was written by a SG contributor.
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