Frost & Sullivan, the reputable business strategy, consulting, and research firm, reports that "only 1 percent of new products recoup their product development costs." This figure reminds us of the kind of uphill battle building a startup and launching a product can turn out to be for founders.
The odds are stacked against you when you set off as a founder. You are practically venturing into the unknown. To make it worse, your organization is fragile, and the margin for error is really small. A few bad calls, and you can say goodbye to your dreams. To change circumstances and pull off a miracle, you not only need stars to align but have to make the right decisions over and over.
Paul Graham's now-famous advice for founders to "do things that don't scale" is the most surefire way of tackling this initial fragility. Those things Graham alludes to involve actions that are impossible to copy and paste a million times without incurring the same cost every time. For example, every time you pitch to prospective customers or personally give your customers support, you are, in a sense, starting over. There are no efficiencies for you to take advantage of from one time to the next.
Another measure to deal with startup fragility would be to invest in the intangibles and build a resilient culture within your team. A shared culture and harmony can help a startup preserve composure in the face of adversity and bounce back every time.
How do you engender harmony at work? Let's take a look at a few steps you can take at different levels.
Co-founders should possess complementary skills for the startup to have a chance of succeeding. It is widely assumed that if one of them has expertise in technical matters, it would be great for the other to specialize in management, finance, or networking. With primary skills covered between them, lacking skills can always be added later when investors become part of the board during the fundraising rounds.
However, there is no cure for the conflicting visions of the co-founders. As İlker Köksal argues in his book Founders' FAQ, co-founders need to engage in some kind of soul-searching to find out their own 'Why?' If their visions are not compatible, the startup is shot, and it is better to liquidate it before wasting resources.
Conflicting visions between co-founders translate into conflicting roadmaps and deadlines for the startup in later stages. Two leaders trying to pull an organization in opposing directions causes stress on employees and if not properly dealt with, paralyzes the company. Without harmony between the co-founders, what you have is a mess, not a startup.
After the harmony between the co-founders, it is the recruitment strategy that makes or breaks a startup. Lacking the reputation and the vast financial resources to attract top talent, startups must bank on discovering hidden gems, training them, and giving them the opportunity to move the company forward.
Startups can ill-afford a lack of harmony within the team. They already suffer from a shortage of resources. A wrong hire not only means a waste of scarce resources, but it also risks throwing off the working parts of the team.
Bringing a toxic personality into what is essentially a small team of specialists can thwart whatever chances of success a startup has. Any newly-hired employee should be someone that can play a meaningful part, add value, and have the personality traits necessary for blending in.
Startups are prone to making wrong decisions because they know very little about their customers, rivals, and even their own capabilities. The way to cope with this fallibility is to stay nimble and flat, always capable of pivoting easily. The co-founders might aspire to grow their startup into a behemoth with different departments and hundreds of employees. However, a staff of 20-25 people at most is the sweet spot, ensuring that the startup is both capable and agile at the same time.
A flat organization with an egalitarian culture promotes free speech and discussion, which in turn spurs innovative thinking. On the other hand, a hierarchical organization where the CTO calls the shots and developers merely do his bidding without any discussion or brainstorming leads to a dead-end. This is the shortest route to failure.
Co-founders willing to get their money's worth should encourage their employees, even the junior ones, to speak their minds. Inclusive decision-making that seeks participation from everyone and helps people buy into the eventual roadmap maximizes your odds of success.
No matter how technical your field of work may be, your employees will still want to feel special and cared about. Just think about how you felt when your phone rang during the lockdowns last year, and it was a friend calling. The pandemic taught us several lessons, and one of them is that hardships are easier to overcome when you have your friends with you.
Here are a few sensible steps to make your teammates feel that they matter to you and the organization:
- Make sure that you have the full contact details of your employees so that you can reach them when they are away for whatever reason. If your employee is away for health reasons or tends to an ailing family member, check upon her to see how she is doing. Those contact details will come in handy in case of an emergency.
- If an employee remembers a colleague's birthday, she will expect hers to be remembered, too. Not only birthdays but work anniversaries are important, too. Veterans of the company would like to see their contributions recognized. Congratulating them on career milestones achieved goes a long way toward boosting their spirits.
With those points in mind, Peaka has recently published the Employee Directory app template to help users keep the human touch alive at work. The template basically works like a good ol' notebook you kept for birthday and anniversary reminders. Employee Directory provides the users with a practical way of keeping employees' contact details, birthdays, and career milestones. It is a treasure trove of little acts of kindness that will nurture harmony at your startup.