All hands on deck sinks a startup.

At the earliest stages, startups are exhilarating. Not only do you get to see and know everything that is going on, you are relied upon to make everything happen. But what happens when your startup’s growth outpaces the abilities of the founders and early employees? Often, chaos and dysfunction ensue, if the team cannot adapt.

In the March 2016 Harvard Business Review Article: Start-Ups That Last, authors Ranjay Gulati and Alicia DeSantola contend:

Founders typically do a bit of everything—basically, whatever it takes to get the business off the ground. Through informal channels they hire fellow generalists, who cobble together their roles and responsibilities partly by pursuing their own passions and partly by looking around and seeing what needs to be done. This idiosyncratic “all hands on deck” approach can work fine in the beginning, when adrenaline is high and the company is small. But as organizations expand, they face new levels of complexity that require them to define and assign tasks more formally.

We saw this at SmartThings but were slow to react and change. We just tried to do more and more, each of us thinking that working all day and then going home and working all night, was somehow sustainable and best for the business. Sure, we eventually added specialized people who helped us tremendously, but even then, those folks had to come in and clean up processes and circumstances that had never gotten off the ground or had atrophied.

Founders often resist bringing discipline to their growing startup, for fear of losing agility and control. But then, ironically, operations become chaotic and performance suffers and that control and agility are lost to reflex and reaction.

The idea of hiring people better than you is given lots of lip service, but in practice, it is hard for many.  Some people when asked to hire their own bosses to supervise activities they had nurtured since the beginning, find the new reality hard to accept. We, like many founders, soon learned how much we didn’t know about functional areas such as operations, fulfillment, retail, and international expansion. We hired people who knew these things and had skills we did not. What we possessed in spades however, was an understanding of SmartThings and it’s customers. We understood our culture and how we wanted the organization to feel, but we weren’t sure how to imprint these values onto new employees—especially with the rapid growth we were experiencing, in some months adding 20-30 people.

Leaders of start-ups see strategy, the pursuit of a clearly defined path that is systematically identified in advance, as the enemy of entrepreneurship, which requires ventures to be opportunistic and quickly shift course as they learn what customers want.

But what I am now coming to understand is, by applying lean startup practices around a common purpose and core set of values, to some more traditional strategic planning activities, a company stands a better chance of weathering difficult growth periods and pivots. Stated more simply, startups should “combine deliberate and emergent strategy”.

You can think of the iterative and incremental daily choices as the gunpowder providing the propulsion of the entity while the strategic vision and planning is the scope, aiming at a target. Without the two methods working together, we are just firing randomly or simply watching a target in our sights.

CoWorking or open source office space

It has been nearly two months now since me and the rest of Refactr LLC have been out on our own and participating in the great experiment that is virtual officing. We have been using spaces such as coffee shops and libraries to meet and conduct our business. We have tried many locations and it works well when we have meetings in one part of the cities or another to just move around like nomads. It is very nice to have low overhead costs and use the three things we need: Internet access, electricity, and a table – all for the cost of a few lattes and maybe a bran muffin.

We find that it is great to get out of the house and work together, and have not missed a day of meeting, usually at 8am once we went out on our own.

However, like many things in life, the little jagged parts – issues that at first seemed pretty minor, begin to rub you the wrong way (or the same way but in the same spot repeatedly) until finally you can’t take it any more. In actuality, coffee shops are not free as each of the three of us has consistently spent between $25 and $50 per week on coffee, tea, and snacks. That adds up ($300-$600/month). Then we have to always cart all of our stuff in and out each day. We can’t bring too many books in our our good headphones. Bringing outside food is also, either awkward (rude to the establishment) or impractical (no refrigerator or microwave) so there are additional costs for lunch (both monetary and time-wise).

No wonder, so many start-ups or freelancers look to get together in a more permanent space using ideas described and put into in the form of things like CoWorking and Bucketworks.

These endeavors haven’t been easy as the headlines show – Saint Paul’s “Ren Box” in need of rescuing. I think that a primary problem is a lack of a person who devotes most of his/her time to it. I believe it really takes a lot of administration to do something like this, and people don’t get into this to be administrators.

Garrick wrote a summary of this topic a while back as well.

Now my friend Justin Grammens at Atomic Objects, is restarting the discussion for the Twin Cities. I am excited to see what comes of it.

Late night ramblings

Tonight was the 2nd meeting of what some* are terming the Twin Cities Social Capital Collective (SCC) and I want to give props to Jake Saba for getting this ball rolling. Between minnebar, SCC, and minnedemo, in September my little web and business communities in Minneapolis and Saint Paul are alive and brimming with excitement.

*Ok I was brainstorming ideas, and this was one of the ideas that came out of my brain but it was one of many :)

I have a feeling many good things are going to be coming out of these events and opportunities and am glad to see them growing. If you are interested in any of these events let me know in the comments and I will post more and/or write privately.

A couple housekeeping notes to clear up:

1) I temporarily launched a new version of Alt Text but then rolled it back when there was some bad mojo with IE. Stupid IE!

2) Some colleagues and I have put up – a site devoted to the discussion and encouragement of the Agile method. That’s a good little Agile method. Yes you are! I hope to start actively promoting the site soon, as soon, that is, as we fux some broke ass shit that’s still there.

3) We have our fence up now at the house and are looking to get a 2nd dog any day now. Just trying to find the right pup on My preference would be a dog that is mid-to-large sized, scruffy and doesn’t shed much.

Signing Statement: As producer of this weblog, I reserve the right to make shit up, ignore your requests for features and reports of bugs, treat you like children, make an ass of myself, and basically do any damn thing I please. I also reserve the right to drink while posting up in this bitch.

Succsessful web teams

Jesse James Garrett’s recent short essay: The 9 Pillars of Successful Web Teams complement nicely the book I am currently reading: Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. (yeah that is a bit overdue). Garrett suggests there are 9 basic competencies that come into play on successful projects:

  1. User Research
  2. Site Strategy
  3. Technology Strategy
  4. Content Strategy
  5. Abstract Design
  6. Technology Implementation
  7. Content Production
  8. Concrete Design
  9. Project Management.

What follows if you read the extended text of this entry is a rambling piece of writing that attempts to describe how I am generally involved in each of these 9 “pillars” and then some attempts to pull all the ramblings together. When I started this post yesterday I am almost certain I had a point. I am just sure there was some underlying, message that I wanted to convey. I warn you now, however, you won’t find it in the extended entry.

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Good morning New Brighton!

Is there anything as pure and good in life as a new plant at your desk? I mean, a new plant; before it is neglected and mistreated , gets bugs, and suffers from root rot. Ah, the green leafy goodness. Damn those vegetarians, that would harvest you for your succulent insides! Damn them!

Ok so we were in New Brighton before too. Now Risdall Linnihan Advertising is in its new home about a mile south of its previous one (and only 4 blocks from my house. Is that a good or bad thing?)


Moving Day

I am now in the midst of my second corporate move. This time we are moving right up the street. It is funny how much bullshit comes up when a company moves: new office reallocation, “who gets a window”, who is the favored son, and who is in the dog house. It’s all political and crappy. I hate that part of business. I wish work relationships could be built on merit, honesty, and trust. Maybe that’s too much to ask these days.