This is a guest post by @SarahWarn, Executive Producer at King of the Web
Most start-ups consist of a team of engineers, marketers and product managers plucked from companiesthat vary from large conglomerates, to one-person startups, to everything in-between. They bring alongwith them the good, bad and ugly of their former work environments, and meshing so many differenthabits, practices, and ideas can be tricky.
I’ve experienced most of these organization types myself − from being media buyer number five atAvenue A (aQuantive), to developing Expedia.com’s search engine marketing department, to building myown entertainment sites, selling them to Viacom, and working out of MTV’s offices in Times Square.
At social entertainment start-up King of the Web, our small team is comprised of former employees fromlarge organizations like Viacom, Microsoft, Boeing, Young & Rubican, and King County; medium-sizedcompanies like Expedia and Big Fish Games; successful solo start-up entrepreneurs; and veterans ofsmall start-ups that become large companies (aQuantive). We even have an inventor.
Over the years, we’ve all picked up habits and attitudes that reflect the business practices of these variousorganizations.
So how do you build a start-up where only the best of those experiences are leveraged?
Create process, but not too much process.
Large companies have nailed what many call the “rhythm ofthe business” after years of reviewing key performance indicators and customer satisfaction stats. This isa very effective model at understanding the pulse of your business. But all this data can lead to analysisparalysis, and to employees spending too much time on documenting, analyzing, and discussing data, andnot enough time actually doing something with that data.
One or two-person start-ups, on the other hand, often eschew all formalized analysis and process, eitherbecause it’s not necessary (since there’s no one they need to share it with), or it’s needed but just notprioritized because there are so many more pressing things to do.
Find a middle-ground and create enough process in place to maximize the data you have, but not so muchthat you hinder your ability to get things done. Build your own business rhythm quickly as a way to keepall employees on the same page.
Hire only the best.
Don’t fall into the trap of filling heads. Large companies are very good at simplyfilling headcount. Raise the bar every time you hire someone new. Only hire people who are amazing,creative, critical and passionate. You’ll get an insanely effective team as a result.
But also don’t be afraid to let someone go quickly if they’re not a good fit. At large companies,ineffective employees are frequently just passed around from department to department, or otherwise justnot dealt with. But when there are only a handful of people, every single person’s work matters, andevery hour spent dealing with attitude problems, big egos, or just bad fits is an hour you literally can’tafford.
Don’t plant strategy on any one person.
There may be teams of people that work on strategy, but at theend of the day every single employee needs to be concerned with strategy. If not, employees becomeexecuters, not thinkers. A team of thinking employees who are able to contribute both within and outsidetheir area of expertise makes for a more effective team, and ultimately a better product.
Let your customer get to know you.
Bloggers are really good at doing this. They expose themselves toreaders, take the time to get to know them by responding to comments and emails, and acknowledging theways in which their readers help shape their work. By doing this, they create an emotional connectionwith their audience that increases loyalty; earns them the right to make more mistakes; and results in abetter product.
In short, the best way to stand out is by standing for more than just business as usual.
Large companies tend to struggle with this. How many times have you gone to an About Us page andfinished reading it wondering why they felt the need to brag so much? Or searched in vain to find thename and face of a single human being working behind the scenes (who isn’t the CEO)?
Facebook and Twitter are great outlets to help your users get to know you. Post pictures of the office,make a video, tell them more about you. The more they like you, the more “human” you seem, the morethey’ll like what you do. And don’t be afraid to take some risks − our team posted a video of ourselves doing the Double Dream Hands dance when our Facebook fans met a challenge we gave them. We were asorry sight to behold, but our followers loved it!
Talk openly with your team about the fluidity inherent in start-up culture, and thepossibility for clashes based on habits developed in previous working environments. Encourage everyoneto reflect on how their previous work experiences have shaped their attitudes, and to recognize when aconflict with another employee is really a problem of style, not substance.
Really. And don’t fake it. You want your employees to develop an emotional connection withyour company, too, and an environment where employees have fun together makes for a better team, anda better product.