What you need to know about productivity in a startup

a picture of a confused monkey

You’ll probably look like this guy when you have to step into a new role at your startup. Don’t be afraid and stick to the basics. Even a monkey could do it… I know 😦 

In a startup, especially one that isn’t comfortably backed by millions of dollars of Silicon Valley venture capitalist funds (we’re not bitter, we swear), it’s very likely that you’re organization lacks personnel to fulfil some vital roles. Be it sales, accounting, legal, marketing, development, etc., your small startup will be at a fundamental disadvantage when it comes to access to the most valuable of resources, talent (willing to work for a slave’s wage or equity in the hope of making it big).

Naturally, this means that your small team is going to have to act in roles that they have little to no experience in. It’s not unusual for someone to feel overwhelmed in said new position and be unsure as to what they should be trying to accomplish. This feeling that is present in many small startups stems from the emphasis, nay, obsession on productivity which dominates the working culture of large organizations and that startups believe they should emulate.

It sounds so obvious but it should be said nevertheless, startups are not mega corporations and should not hold themselves to those standards, at least not yet. Productivity comes in many different shapes and sizes and is always measured against the goals you are trying to achieve. Large organizations can afford to emphasize the importance of productivity because they are trying to achieve their various goals with their multitude of workers, much like a bee hive.

A picture of Bees

You’re not a large organization, you’re also not a bee. Stop trying to act like one

It’s so easy to see bees and their hives as a metaphor for the workplace environment and one’s role in it; especially in the case of large organizations. Although the metaphor borders on cliché, you’ll see that it’s painfully appropriate. Not to mention depressing.

According to this website, bees will fly a distance equivalent to that of the earth’s circumference to gather 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey during their lifetime. On top of that, it takes roughly 556 bees to make one pound of honey and a hive can produce a surplus of 100 pounds (45 kg) of honey which bee keepers will then harvest and sell to consumers.

Immediately you’re probably drawing conclusions between a hive’s mindless drones and those in an office. You work hard, probably harder than you have to, your entire career for the sake of your organization just so that someone else can reap a disproportionate amount of the reward only to “die” feeling like your contribution, in the grand scheme of things, has been for naught. Like I said, depressing.

This need not be the case in a startup where your limited resources are, while maybe not a strength, definitely not as much of a barrier as you might think. Your small size and flexibility means you can do virtually anything you want, any way you want to; the trick is to know what that is. For those now in a role with which they have no practical experience, you need only know three things in order to be productive and effective: your company’s identity, vision, and current situation (here’s a Venn diagram to illustrate).

A custom made venn diagram ilustrating how Identity, Vision, and Situtaion lead to meaningful productivity

Know thyself and your workflow will follow naturally, whether you like it or not.

 

Identity: Though vague, what your company does, why, how, and for whom is the foundation of your identity. You can not hope to know what needs to be done if you don’t know what you’re trying to do. Know your target market, their wants and needs, and exactly how you’re catering your business for them. Write it down in a simple sentence like “we provide a workforce management solution to large organizations so that they can make informed management decisions based on the data collected by our cloud-based applications.” With this information you can decide how to approach the next piece of the puzzle.

Vision:

Knowing who you are and what your trying to accomplish means you can start setting goals that will help you fulfil your company’s vision. More importantly, it’ll let you know what you don’t need to do.

If you’re selling dentures directly to consumers, odds are you won’t need a comprehensive social media strategy but might consider advertising in a popular local knitting publication (I apologize for perpetuating stereotypes).You are in an infinitely better position if you eliminate that which you don’t have to do than if you first try to focus on everything that you feel you need to do. That brings us to…

Current Situation:

Realistically, in a startup, you don’t need to do everything at once. Your first priority is to create a product or service that you can show to potential customers and ultimately generate revenue. All your initiatives should support this ultimate goal until such a time that you can afford to worry about your secondary objectives which might require bringing in more people. Essentially, worry about the problems you do have and not the ones you don’t. If you do not take on responsibilities that will not benefit your immediate goal you will find that you won’t have to drift too far from the tasks that you were initially brought on to do (see our flowchart). Knowing exactly where you are with respect to your vision will give you the appropriate perspective to know what needs to be done and what can be put on hold.

These three elements are the foundation of knowing how to be productive. Entrepreneurs forced into unfamiliar territory need only not confuse who they are with who they should be in order to be effective in their supplementary roles. Find out what you want to do, how you’re going to do it, whether you need to do it, and if you can do it. It’d be great to have an army of specialized workers tackling every task that needs to be done. Barring that possibility, keep it simple and focus on what really matters, improving your product or service and making it appealing to potential customers. Anything else is none of your beesness (I’m sorry, I had to).

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