I shared thoughts on managing a flexible workforce on Fast Company’s Hit The Ground Running column this past week. You can read the article here.
Silicon Valley, Alley, Flatirons, Prairie, Beach — the startup tech community and business has leaped from its legacy home of Northern California to nearly every major city in the U.S. As each area of the country sets a stake in creating a place that fosters and helps grow startup business, there is increasing talk of these new, great hubs for the industry.
It also brings up an interesting discussion point about what makes a good startup community. The answer ranges — what entrepreneurs and founders might need at an early stage of the company can often be different from the desires and needs of executives and employees working in the business at later stages. While some believe it’s networking events and media attention, others look to deal flow and access to capital within their city. Some may benchmark it by a robust community of resources, like engineers and other talent. Everyone, of course, looks to jobs and job creation as an integral element.
For entrepreneurs and founders, needs are often centered around an environment where they can focus and leverage the ecosystem. This group in the ecosystem often benefits from access to capital, networking and/or educational events, but the type of curriculum for conferences, attendees, and other elements can be different from what executives and employees working with a tech hub might seek or benefit from. In terms of resources, it can range from affordable office space, to good talent pool, and of course, investors. Though because we are in a truly global (and often virtual) world, these elements can be surprisingly less important or necessary — good companies and ideas can find and work with remote resources and often do successfully. In terms of learning and access to resources, many startup entrepreneurs and founders need or want to learn as much about corporate structure, equity allocation and other business elements of owning a company as they do strategies and other means to grow or market their business. With email and the internet, networking to find potential partners or customers can often be done without attending events. Therefore, moving the founder or entrepreneur to attend such gatherings has to be focused on the potential of a return on their time investment as many are juggling busy schedules as is. Legalities such as tax breaks, regulations, and other elements can also be important for entrepreneurs and many cities have worked to create this to attract startup business.
For executives and employees, what constitutes an ideal startup tech community depends on the stage of the company . Events where business development and marketing executives can evangelize the company, meet and network with peers or potential customers, can be key. Connecting with the tech community outside of the company takes a different value proposition and need. Access to resources shifts a bit — talent to support the company efforts such as engineers, marketing, graphic designers, and sales or business development executives may replace the desire or benefit of meeting potential investors and other founders. Just the same, availability of top talent is as critical to this group within a startup tech environment. Talent is attracted to where it can earn income or revenue, and markets that are not demonstrating job opportunities and growth are often passed on. Regulatory and compliance issues tend to be less or not relevant as employees are often removed from this burden within a business.
But as there are some differences among the needs of everyone within a technology and business market, many things that are the same. Location and/or ease of getting around the community can be critical to all regardless of what position they hold in the company. Affordable housing and other personal services such good medical practitioners and schools can be an attractive benefit. Good restaurants, grocery stores, and even eco-friendly living may be top of mind for many in the industry. It takes decades to build a flourishing community of startups and entrepreneurs, it cannot be willed, and many factors play a vital role. When such a community reaches a critical mass it becomes uniquely nurturing and self-perpetuating. While media coverage and attention is often assumed to be a value, it’s important to understand that a technology community best benefits from the right kind of attention. Inflated expectations or ‘hype’ within a market can actually hurt its growth, both long and short-range.
Creating the impression or illusion that a market or the companies within it are ‘hot’ is not always for the good — in some instances, it can set companies up for the impression of failure when the natural, often unavoidable challenges or pitfalls of any startup company come into the picture. What’s more beneficial from a media and attention standpoint isn’t the ‘deals and exits,’ or the ‘buzz’ alone, but important fundamentals such as real market traction, authentic, steady growth, market maturity, solid leadership and management, and many of the components that helped put the original ‘Silicon’ (the Silicon Valley) startup market on the map.
I shared insight on Forbes.com this past week. You can read the article here.
In the past two decades, the workplace has changed significantly. The days of stiff corporate attire and equally formal business environments and processes have seen dramatic transformations. This has been seen in particular within the startup environment but even within the classic corporate world it’s a new workplace experience. Many companies strive today to have great company cultures, often centered around building teams, camaraderie, and a sense of community among employees. Companies often involve teams and staff in larger company decisions, and many aim for transparency in areas of the business that had often been undisclosed in most work environments.
While this shift has had many great benefits to organizations and teams, it can also present some new and unexpected challenges for leadership and management. As the workplace becomes more friendly, casual, and relaxed, and co-workers begin feeling more like family and friends, it can become a unique balance for everyone — not just in keeping environments and workflow professional, but potential need for defining new boundaries and practices. For many employees, the new connection to the company or team can also mean an increased sense of ownership. Increased social engagement and bonding among employees have in some instances created new issues, from disputes and arguments that spill into the work environment, or even instances of inappropriate behaviors.
As leaders and managers, it can become a delicate balance not just in our own interactions with our colleagues and teams, but also in creating an environment for everyone that fosters community, culture and participation, but also has the right kind of boundaries established to keep the company organizationally and operationally structured. The key, of course, always begins with leading by example. Many of us aim and look to creating the culture only, without thinking through what it needs to look like from all angles including our own interactions, example and behaviors. By doing so before the first company outing or foosball table is put together, it can help set a precedent for all that will help keep the work environment professional and sharp while creating and fostering the benefits of today’s more casual, fun work world.
You’ll also want to consult with legal team to ensure that any bases that need to be covered in company policies or employee handbooks fit your environment — not just the standard company basics. An example can be how should you handle employees that might take the casual dress code a little too casual? What if someone on the team comes to the office in short shorts or a muscle tank top, etc.? Last, how do you want issues and conflict to be handled should any arrive? An ounce of advance preparation — including in your own day-to-day approach and interaction — can create a great company environment while still giving teams and operations the right kind of fences.
Not long ago, a story had appeared in the media about a startup founder whose company was acquired. The startup’s team was brought on board at the new company, but the founder wasn’t. It brings up a common potential challenge for many entrepreneurs, as well as co-founders, and early stage employees — where and how to maintain a position as the company scales, receives funding, or sees an acquisition. While in the instance referenced above, the founder was a woman, it’s not an uncommon issue for male founders, too. While it is impossible to know what will really happen in the event of a major business milestone, such as growth, funding or acquisition, there are some things that can help entrepreneurs and executives maintain their position.
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of assuming that just because a business was their idea, or that they launched the company, that their long-term value is an automatic. But, unfortunately, it’s not always the case. There are many instances where a board might vote out a founder of a funded company, or where a founder might become too myopic with part of the business while letting others on the team take a greater part of the reigns. Often, it isn’t done with intention on anyone’s part — but can often be realized when it’s too late.
Many say the answer is to avoid co-founders, investors, or partners, it’s often not the cause or the issue. Though every situation and every company is unique, there are a few key practices to keep in mind and maintain diligence about at every stage of the business.
1. Grow With The Business – The early days of any company is often limited to a small, intimate group of people where the founder wears many hats and has his or her hand in everything. As the company scales and more team is added, many are relieved to let go of some of the duties — but that doesn’t mean you should let go of your involvement and interaction in everything. I don’t mean micromanage your team, but playing an active role in all areas of the company can be a critical piece. Staying engaged and involved in the business, maintaining leadership and input in strategic areas can help maintain value and position within the company.
2. Stay Flexible – Many founders are passionate about their business and ideas. But while this is an asset to the company, if it limits your flexibility to adapt, grow or evolve with the company it can potentially weaken your value and position. You don’t want to be so flexible that the company or leadership lacks focus, but if you’re unwilling to explore or learn about a department or function you’re not particularly familiar with, or play an active part in something that is outside of your comfort or skill zone, you can dilute your place in the business. You may not be the one doing the coding in development, or handling the spreadsheets in accounting, but scale with the business.
3. Stay Involved And Informed — Staying present, involved and active in the company goes beyond just the walls of your building or solely among your team. It includes within the industry, market and among your customers as well — including maintaining a pulse on industry trends, new innovations, companies, ideas, and technologies in the market as well. Many founders gain business success or launch ideas because they’re experts in their industry or field, only to let that go by the wayside later in business. It can be a challenge to keep present/relevant, ahead of the curve and in the know in your industry, but doing so can help keep your stance within your business.
4. Keep A Positive Attitude — The rigors of early stage business, particularly among team and partners, can take a toll on everybody. But it is important to keep your attitude and approach in check in this aspect to maintain a solid stance in your business. Many let relatively small issues grate on them, hold onto grudges or negative feelings, over or under-address issues to the detriment of their own work. By first expecting there to be tension from time to time, knowing when and how to pick and fight battles, and developing communication skills in addressing issues, you can maintain a greater value in your company, long after it hits its major milestones in its business.