3 start-up killers and how to avoid them

It looks like you've found the pot of gold. The market loves your product, venture capitalists are calling you and you're into your second round of funding. You're beginning to hire more and more and your growth and future is looking pretty damn good. But now there are new challenges, all of which could potentially kill your business's growth.

Killer #1: A Deteriorating Culture

Five people is very different to 10 and 10 is insanely different to 100, so the working environment is naturally going to change with new people, new personalities and inevitably, a whole bunch of new behaviours. The culture of your enterprise is shifting and if you don't act to manage it, things can deteriorate pretty quickly.

But how can you stop the inevitable? Firstly, keep an eye out! Senior management should always be monitoring changes within the business, and particularly its structure. If you see a steady growth in employees early on and realise the potential dangers, you can prepare accordingly and act quickly to mitigate any risks.

Getting your culture right within your company can be a difficult task. One key strategy to keep your culture in line with your company's values is by deliberately choosing the type of behaviours required for success. To do this, develop a list of very specific statements that clearly lay out what each employee will and will not do. This will help protect, develop and nurture the company's core values and culture.

Why is company culture so important? Well company culture impacts EVERYTHING. It impacts employee behaviour, the actions people take daily, the way employees communicate and how they treat one another. It even influences the way your employees think and feel. More than anything, it has a direct impact on your ability to successfully execute strategy.

When you define a goal, objective or strategy there is a specific set of behaviours required to achieve a successful outcome. Act and behave in the wrong way and you'll fail. Get it right and the glory of success is all yours.

So what we are saying is the first question you should ask yourself is "how do we need to behave in order to achieve our goals?"

Killer #2: Wasted Resources

Getting caught up in the thrill of your businesses growth can often lead to poor resource allocation. You can do without a lot of things while growing a business, but money isn't one of them, and with each round of funding comes an increased pressure to use that capital most effectively to drive growth. Waste it, and it will eventually kill your business.

The biggest waste will come from not getting the most from your primary resource: your people. You can't afford to throw away their talent, time or effort.

The most important decision is often deciding what to STOP doing. If you think this sounds easy, think again. Each project, each activity and even daily tasks need to be evaluated against the 'win' question: "will this help us win?" In other words, if we are engaged in anything that does not directly impact overall goals and objectives; we need to cut it out of the system immediately.

To help you with this, consider the following questions:

  1. How will we measure success? – Your top 3 measurable goals
  2. What do we need to focus on to be successful? – 3 key initiatives
  3. What does each person in the team need to execute?

So in short, stop wasting resources! Be clear about what is expected from each team and each individual and then stop doing stuff that doesn't count towards your competitive advantage strategy.

Killer #3: Poor Execution

A business environment is dynamic and the ground is constantly shifting underneath your feet. In that type of environment you need to be disciplined and this is the most fundamental principle for start-ups in the growth phase.

As Charles Darwin said "It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

Building an execution discipline that allows you to handle change and still get the right things done involves just 3 things:

  1. Be certain people are focused on the RIGHT things. Each person's work needs to be clear and focused and in any given quarter, week or day, be able to answer "what are the top 3 things I must execute now?"
  2. Get visibility on performance. Visibility brings high levels of accountability. Both team and individual performance needs to be completely transparent and visible 24/7. You need to know precisely how each team and individual is performing, so it's vital to set expectations and clear goals around execution and performance from the outset and then review progress regularly.
  3. Build a team meeting discipline. Finally you have to build a sound meeting discipline that focuses on the execution of strategy and improved performance. Execution is dynamic and things are always changing, so the only way to stay on top of executing your strategy successfully is to introduce a weekly team meeting discipline that allows you and your team to thrive in this environment.

Success requires a finely balanced approach to all three killers. You can make the case that this is true for any enterprise, but in the highly pressured "limited resource" start-up environment, all three are amplified tenfold and the dangers become immediate. If you wish to revaluate your business strategy or discuss how you can combat these killers, give us a call on 02 9299 7044 or shoot us an email at admin@lockwood.com.au.

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