War stories are popular in the startup culture. It’s a romantic notion–
Global technology companies started from suburban garages; biotechnology behemoths incubated in windowless basements; the next social network being worked on from a college dorm.
I have worked at startups that had a culture allergic to getting furniture. No chairs. Employees would have meetings while sitting on the floor. The CTO sat on an upturned bucket. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to be resourceful, but not being able to find a chair is not heroic, it’s counterproductive.
Either you’re doing this stuff because it emotionally appeals to you or you really are that disorganized. In either case, employees sitting on the floor is hurting their productivity and your growth. I’m not suggesting going out and burning money day-one on a bunch of Aerons. Rather, understand that these are operational issues. You either need to deal with them or hire someone who can. Someone like me.
I think most people have something that they can’t help but do.
Something that they have done compulsively and perhaps obsessively for most of their lives. For many great musicians and athletes this calling is obvious to all. For others, you might have to pay closer attention to see it. For me, that thing is operations. Whenever engaged in a project of any form I always approach it from the prospective of strategy, delegation and optimization. As a child this compulsion to organize all the people was that healthy mix of both adorable and bizarre.
Sleepovers with packets and schedules, plans for holiday craft projects that would make Martha Stewart proud (and generally annoying to my parents), school projects that were taken to the next level every time.
These “adorable” skills are highly transferable to operations because, if you want to run a functioning business, operations is what matters. It deals with everything from funding to data-management to legal to engineering management. We’ve gone through some in vogue things to fund, the “design-first startup,” the, “machine learning-first startup,” but I haven’t heard the trend of the “operations-first startup.” I do not mean a startup run by MBA stereotypes who wouldn’t recognize a novel idea if it hit them over the head. I mean a founding team mature enough to recognize that being organized and having their shit together from day one is the difference between success and failure.
At the end of the day, if your startup is to become successful, it will be operations-first.
Returning to chairs. You don’t need to be spending a lot of time on seating. But you don’t want your entire engineering workforce stopping to build furniture for new hires. It may be a good team building exercise but midday on a Wednesday it would be much better if they were writing code. Let’s lose the emotional attachment to making things seem or be extra difficult. Sure, embrace quirky idiosyncrasies that imbue culture into the company; but don’t have any illusions about the difference between being cheap and being scrappy. A scrappy company wastes little and invests their resources where they are most effective. A cheap company handicaps their employees, wasting their time and creating artificial barriers to success.
Falsely creating artificial hardship by sitting on buckets will not provide the imagined benefits you’re going for.
So that’s why I do operations, in places that move fast, and sometimes just might change the world.