Tag Archives: startups

Managing Employee (and Your Own) Burnout

We often hear about the exciting, invigorating and fun elements of owning a startup business. In reality, startup business can mean a great deal of stress, strain, fears, and a range of other challenges for entrepreneurs and executives. This only increases as companies attempt to reach critical outcomes, be it funding, scaling, IPO, acquisition or pivot. Burnout and other challenges are very real, and have the potential to hurt the company and staff if gone without notice or addressed. But as with any issues at a company, this can also be managed — even avoided — with a few specific steps.

First, understanding that both you and your staff can get run down or overwhelmed is an important part. That doesn’t mean you want to see personal days and time off escalate — but knowing it can happen can go a long way in successfully avoiding and managing it in your organization. Second, keeping in tune with yourself and your team is key. Have you been working 14 hour days for several days in a row? Is your staff regularly waking up early to tackle issues or problems, on top of the typical 8-10 hour day? While this can be common at a startup company, no one (not even you!) can sustain or endure it long-range, no matter how great the benefit might be once the work is done. By noticing fatigue and other issues at their onset, you can better assess and work around them.

Third, set the pace for yourself and all in the organization. You absolutely need to work hard, and get work done. But working hard and getting work done does not necessarily mean a frenetic, stressful pace is required. It can mean extra hours or time at work during crunch times or development pushes, but it can often mean a need for more streamlined or realistic expectations and processes. Keep an eye on how things are going, and what it might take to complete projects, at all times.

Last, you want to make the job easier where you can. That doesn’t mean installing a foosball table to give everyone a chance to have fun and improve morale. Rather, ask yourself and your staff what might help relieve stress, strain or prevent burnout — it might be as simple as shifting work hours to a different format than the traditional 9-5, hiring an assistant to handle personal tasks and errands, or other unexpected means to solve the problem.

 

Building A Great Engineering Team Large Or Small

If there is one thing technology and the internet have shown us all is the value of adapting. Legacy retail business is a great example — there have been some traditional brick-and-mortar companies that have struggled or shut down, but overall the retail industry as a whole has significantly benefited from the advent of innovation and the web.

But while most businesses today must utilize technology to the advantage in some way, doing so is another story. A particular pain point for virtually any organization is in how to select, hire and manage engineers, and build engineering teams that have the power and knowledge to get the job done. However, it can be more efficient and successful than it seems. A few strategies that can help:

  1. Know what you want — With technology, it can be hard to know how to make the things you want or need, but that does not change that you can be clear on what you need or want. Take time to have a sense of your technology needs or vision long before you begin the hiring process. It’ll help you better communicate and drive your technology or innovation needs, and put you in a stronger position to lead and direct those you bring on board for the job.
  2. Do the homework — The internet can be a powerful tool for learning about technology. While you do not have to become an expert in the field, taking a little time to do some research into what you feel you need or want can be an asset as you seek engineering talent. It can be as easy as typing a few keywords on a search engine and taking notes. If nothing more, it’ll help you have a stronger sense of what you want or need, and in some cases, assist in finding the right type of engineering help.
  3. Seek the right talent — Explore your options for job boards and other talent resources before placing your ads. While certain resources for finding hires and talent might be great in one area, there are many that attract and focus specifically on niches including technology and engineering. Ask peers, look around a bit, or consider working with a speciality staffing firm or head hunter — it can be worth it by finding qualified individuals for your position or team. Once interviewing, be sure to ask candidates about their process, how they report or communicate work, if they’ve structured projects in the past, work style and other elements beyond their technology skills and background.
  4. Set the perimeters — You may not be the technology expert in your organization, but you are essentially the ‘boss.’ Think about and establish what your needs are in terms of how team members communicate specifics, report on progress, provide in meetings, etc. before you hire. In doing so you will be able to set expectations and structure essential to your technology project.
  5. Be involved and engaged — Once your engineering team is in place, stay active, involved and engaged with them and their work at all times. Ask questions, read the reports and other updates they provide, keep an eye on budget, schedules, timelines and progress. You may not be a technology expert, but basic management and business skills still apply with leading and overseeing your technology team and project.

What Makes A Good Startup Community?

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.

 

The Important Element To Innovation And Business

It is an exciting time in innovation. Technology has helped redefine, reinvent and even create new categories, products and markets. Companies like Amazon, which traditionally sold books online, now have retail products, media and content as well as their own hardware devices such as Kindle and the Fire smartphone,. It’s not just limited to the technology industry, but dozens of others. Medicine, research, investing, transportation, design, the home, you name it. We are truly in a new and impelling world.

It brings up an interesting element for companies in the web business. It goes beyond the traditional players like Google and Facebook, to the startup you may own or work at as well as in some cases, major legacy companies and corporations. Innovation, in itself can be rather disruptive within these environments themselves, and charting where and what innovation needs to look like to your company regardless of size is a critical (and often overlooked) first step. While the internet enables every company regardless of legacy market to expand into new frontiers, where and how to innovate can be nearly as important to the picture as the innovation and effort itself. Many companies (including major, successful players) make these mistakes.

For web companies, avoiding missteps in innovation within your organization begins with a solid sense of what you do. This sounds simple enough, but many often misunderstand this element in the business online. In consumer space and for that matter in business-to-business , it can be broken down to two areas: products or service/utility — or in some instances (as with Google or Amazon), it can be both. How this can best be identified or defined is by asking yourself what exactly do you provide to the market? Is it a product that consumers can purchase? Or a service/utility they use? In the example of Google, it has a consumer product (Android smartphone) and it has a service/utility (Google Search).

Determining if your company falls into the consumer product or service/utility category doesn’t just help identify where and how to innovate. It can also enable a sense of the best route to take. For example, Amazon enables people to purchase books (service). A device for reading digital books was an obvious, potentially viable path (product). Then, Amazon recognized that it could go beyond books to sell content of all kinds, including music and television shows (service). It realized it could offer more than just one device as well — the Fire smartphone introduced this year (product).

By understanding where its core/legacy position resided, Amazon was able to identify multiple, organic routes to expand its business. The company then equally went beyond the consumer category to understanding where it might fit into the business-to-business (B-to-B) market — tools for authors to create and publish digital books, and ultimately pioneered a business utility in the form of cloud storage and computing. It’s a great example of how knowing your inherent, core position within a market can be expanded.

While it can be possible to expand into something with less of a natural, organic path with your company, taking this type of leap doesn’t just present challenges for an organization but moving a customer base to that offering will likely be the same. For example, Facebook provides a means for people to communicate with family and friends. But Facebook enabling retailers to set up stores on its platform has been widely reported to be unsuccessful. That’s because though Facebook has millions of users on its site daily, most would not easily make the correlation to also do their shopping there. Having to put in the work to marry Facebook users to also use Facebook in this way turned out to be a larger job for most retailers, and many shuttered their Facebook storefronts in the end to focus attention on other, more fundamental ways of using Facebook to drive sales.

When it comes to where and how your company can innovate, there truly is no ‘wrong’ answer, just the one that best fits. It all begins with identifying what side of the market you fit into (consumer product or service/utility). Your course for innovation, including whether or not you can expand beyond the consumer market, should unfold much more easily from there.

Holding A Position Within Your Startup, From Start To Outcome

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.