Friday, December 27, 2013

Start Up Mindset

Being involved with a startup is a very exciting and rewarding opportunity.   Building an organization focused on a new idea or product; or how to improve upon something already being done in the market, can be an amazing life experience.  Along with the excitement and enthusiasm, there also comes the challenge of accomplishing a high volume of work with limited staff and financial resources.   A few lessons I’ve learned after my most recent journey with a startup:

  • Stay Lean – Generally, startup company teams are comprised of a few key individuals with broad business knowledge who possess the drive and entrepreneurial spirit to create something new.  As a new company’s ideas, vision and products begin to take shape, the demands on the team will continually increase and there will likely be the need for more specialized skills or equipment. The company’s leadership certainly should not ignore these needs.  They should consider outsourcing or leasing, rather than hiring or purchasing, to fulfill these needs early in a company’s lifecycle.  A few examples might include legal, tax, employee benefits, payroll processing, bookkeeping, technology equipment and software.  Adopting a pay-as-you go approach to fulfilling these needs can preserve cash early in a company’s lifecycle.
  • Standardize – Taking time to document, in writing, policies and procedures is critical.  Otherwise, the team will quickly become buried in the minutiae, trying to remember, “how do I pull that report again?” or “what are we allowed to expense for meals?” Spending time trying to remember how to perform day-to-day tasks is inefficient and diverts your efforts away from innovating and running the business.  It is human nature to forego compiling such documentation in favor of attacking the next challenge.  However, having this documentation permanently recorded in operations manuals, accounting manuals and employee handbooks will make life much easier.  I recommend, at a minimum, creating procedure memos, distributing them to the appropriate parties and aggregating them into an official “manual” later. Operational ability is key as a business transitions from a startup to an ongoing business.   Always strive to create repeatable processes that deliver predicable results.
  • Measure – Company leaders must define and measure the business’s drivers to success.  Often, these metrics are quantified as you develop your strategic plan.  Generally, financial metrics receive the most attention.  It is important to also measure non-financial metrics, as these are often key drivers to success.  Examples include customer-focused metrics such as customer satisfaction or number of repeat customers.  The metrics will certainly vary among industries and for individual companies operating within the same industry.  Finally, don’t just measure what you currently have the ability to measure.  Rather, design systems to measure what should be measured.  Otherwise, you may miss key indicators that require attention or a strategy shift.
Startups are not for everyone, but if you can see the forest through the trees, the fun of bringing a product concept to life can be a rewarding challenge.  Taking the appropriate steps to preserve cash, document and standardize procedures and measure performance will make the process a little easier.

Guest Blogger:
David Harris has over 18 years of finance and operations business experience.  He is currently seeking to align himself with an organization where he can apply his skills as part of a team and contribute to its success.

You can contact David Harris via email at or via LinkedIn by visiting

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