15 April 2014

In Startup Land, Management Really Is Nimble


Maybe it’s just because startup companies are small by definition, but management really is nimble.  In our company, “management” is three people:  the CEO, the CTO and the CMO.

I’m still not sure if we’re nimble because we can be (there are just three of us) or if we have to be (market forces move so quickly these days).  Maybe a little bit of both.  I do know that big companies want to be nimble.  When Google founder Larry Page took over as CEO, he said he wanted “the nimbleness and soul and passion and speed of a startup.”

Interestingly, that quote lists four characteristics that form a sine qua non daisy chain of Startup Land merit badges.  You can’t have any of these without the others.  In other words, you’re not nimble if you don’t have soul or you lack passion or speed.

Dance, Startup Boy, Dance!

Happily, things in Startup Land move much faster than things at a big holding company in Ad Land.  When we took over our little company, it was clear we had to put costs in line with revenue, modify the business model and clean up the code.

Fourth of a series
Coming from Ad Land, “costs in line with revenue” is usually a synonym for “employee layoffs” but that wasn’t the case here.  As in many startups, the company was just burning through too much investor cash on things that didn’t really drive the business.  You see those things quickly when there’s no bureaucracy hiding them.

We also very decisively focused the company’s business model.  We’re winding down a legacy business in managing proprietary hardware – call it “owned media” – for institutional advertisers.  We stopped licensing software to clients, which yielded very little revenue and more than a few operational issues.

We inherited an excellent software platform, but like any such platform it needed regular updating.  The CTO started a project, working closely with Marketing, to release new versions every four to six weeks.  This allowed us to prioritize what we needed and get it to market faster, rather than waiting for One Big Release that might come months later.

Some things just can’t get done right away.  You only have so much time and talent available.  For example, we are only just now revising the website.  But we made that decision ourselves versus being held hostage to a corporate process.

Impatience Can Be a Virtue

In the first post of this series we mentioned that Startup Land requires patience, and that’s still true.  Impatience, however, drives nimbleness.  You want to make things happen quickly, so you do. 

To resolve this apparent paradox:  Be impatient with what you can control, and patient with what you can’t.  Which leads to our next post.

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