Your startup is not meant to be a startup forever. Eventually, it’s meant to become a larger company with a more sustainable plan of action. And as you move further along that road, you will undergo a lot of changes.
Most of these changes will be for the better. No more working from coffee shops or living rooms, no more late nights fixing bugs, larger teams and more resources, less financial insecurity, more customers and the ability to plan the future better.
But there are also things that helped your business move forward that you shouldn’t try to change. These things defined your culture and strengthened your team when you began. They will still work for you, even when everything else is growing.
Here are the seven startup habits that you should never lose.
1. Experiment and take risks
Since startups don’t really know what will work for them, they are constantly experimenting, trying out new things, tracking and iterating on the things that work. As a larger company, there is a big chance that you will already have figured out things that work for you and things that just don’t. That is no reason to stop innovating or experimenting on new things as the market around you evolves.
Coca-Cola, for example, splits its advertising budget in three. They use 70 percent of it to do things they know work well, 20 percent to try things that are a bit more risky or iterate on past successful experimentations, and the last 10 percent to go for crazy experiments on that could fail completely. This enables them to stay on top of advertising innovation as the largest beverage company in the world while ensuring they’re not risking everything.
2. Keep mixing and matching jobs
Remember when there was only three or four people on your team? Everybody had to wear several hats. Multitasking in your company remains a great way to boost innovation and enhance team collaboration as you grow. Someone who understands what their colleague’s job is really like, and what he or she does on a daily basis, can work better with them.
Have your customer service people sit in on product meetings, mix marketing and sales, invite your engineers to do customer support. Companies like Amazon or Freshbooks have all their employees, whatever their job title or spot in the organization, do customer support on a regular basis. It keeps them focused on the things that really matter.
3. Have lunch and coffee together
This isn’t trivial. Finding moments to talk with your team outside of meetings is crucial to your business. Going through an agenda can be long, annoying and a limit on the exchanges that spark creativity.
Lunch or coffee breaks are the perfect opportunity to brainstorm on new projects or challenges while catching up on what everyone is working on. You will create a better understanding inside of your company of each person’s job and role. With better understanding also comes better cooperation and better company culture.
At Evernote, the entire top management team takes turns at the office coffee shop making drinks for everyone. The weekly schedule is shared so that everyone can have a chance to catch up with any top management over a drink.
4. Stay close to your users
As a startup, your first users are always really dear to your heart. You cherish them and follow all of their ups and downs on your product. But as you grow, the risk is that you stop caring about them so much. Your first customer will always mean something to you, but do you feel the same about your 1,000th customer, your 10,000th, your 100,000th?
Make sure you never lose focus that your customers are the reason why your business is growing. When it launched in 2009, inDinero started to take a few hours every week to call every single customer who churned the previous week. Five years later, they still do it to make sure they always stay connected with their users and understand what’s working or not for them.
5. Stay transparent
Information usually flows easily inside of a startup. Because there are not many of you, it’s easy for the CEO as well as for the employees to regularly catch up with everyone and stay on top of everything that’s happening. This gets harder and harder as a company grows.
To face this, companies like Stripe and Buffer have chosen to go for full transparency with shared email addresses and displayed dashboards, letting everyone have access to all the information they need at all times. Buffer’s metrics, salaries, and revenues are actually public for everyone to see. No secrets are kept and everyone can be fully involved in the mission of the company.
Regular team meetings are a great way to share information in both directions, from employees to CEO and CEO to employees. Google and Zappos have weekly or monthly team meetings where the entire company is invited to join the CEO for AMA sessions. All questions are permitted.
6. Keep things simple
As your company grows, you will have access to more resources, hire more employees and have more customers asking you more and more things. In this case, the temptation is high to keep adding on to your product with new features and additional use cases. However, the simplest products are usually those who will win over customers. Before adding this new “never-seen-before” plug-in, remember when you were keeping it simple. Ask yourself if it’s really necessary.
The team at Box, for example, is always sure to simplify their product as much as possible, from customer signup to in-app experience. They believe that staying clutter-free is what customers are looking for. This doesn’t mean that their product does less, it just means that complexity is hidden as much as possible from the end-user.
7. Stop planning, start doing
Startups often need to make do with what they have, which usually is not a lot. This pushes them to do instead of think. This lets them adapt quickly to any new situation, allowing them to move faster than larger companies.
Of course, as companies grow, more thorough planning becomes necessary for everything to run smoothly. You’ll have more people to manage, more projects to run and more people to report to. But this shouldn’t take you away from actual “doing”, “making”, “building”.
To avoid over-thinking things, the growth team at Hubspot put in place a very effective growth process to track all their actions. Now that it’s up and running, they only allow themselves one meeting on Mondays to plan the week ahead. All the other days are exclusively focused on doing.
In the end, it’s all about finding and keeping the habits that work for you. That starts by never forgetting the things that worked for you when you were small and got you where you are today.
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