5 Practical Lessons for Any Startup

May 20 2021

There are many nuggets of wisdom that we use as guiding principles when building our team. Here are five that have proven to be especially valuable and lasting.

The rule of 3 and 10

Coined by Hiroshi Mikitani, founder and CEO of Rakuten, the rule implies that every time your team triples in size, rounding up t0 nearest multiples of 10, everything changes, things break.

When you go from one person to three people it’s different. When it’s just you, you know what you are doing and then you have three people and you have to rethink how you are doing everything. But when there are 10 people it’s all going to change again. And when there are 30 people it will change again. Same when you reach 100 people.

— https://www.sequoiacap.com/article/the-rule-of-3-and-10/

Everything from team dynamics, communication tools and meetings to payroll and the intentional or natural formation of hierarchy is affected.

At Buttercloud, a team floating around the 6–10 person size, a change of plus or minus one can often have a palpable impact and require rethinking everything we are doing. A simple example would be how to maintain the practicality of our morning standup call as the number of attendees increases, that 20-30 minute call is suddenly approaching the hour mark.

Edit your team

As CEO of Square, Jack Dorsey sees himself as “Chief Editor”, where his #1 priority is editing the team dynamics. In his words:

“I’ve often spoken to the editorial nature of what I think my job is, I think I’m just an editor, and I think every CEO is an editor. I think every leader in any company is an editor. Taking all of these ideas and editing them down to one cohesive story, and in my case my job is to edit the team, so we have a great team that can produce the great work and that means bringing people on and in some cases having to let people go.”

— Source: Journal of Marketing

When speaking on the matter, Kevin Rose also used the term “pruning” which by definition is the act of trimming down in order to encourage growth.

Editing your team is just as much about nurturing the company culture as it is about building a skilled and experienced team. As with rowing, all team members need to paddle in the same direction at the same speed in order to reach the finish line.

Brooks’ Law

Although Fred Brooks, in his book The Mythical Man-Month, coined this oversimplified rule in reference to software projects, I believe it can be applied to projects of any nature.

“adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”

— Source: Journal of Marketing

Factors such as “ramp up” time, communication overhead and lack of concurrent tasks can attribute to negatively impacting a project in progress by adding to the team. This is something often overlooked by clients and project managers but also by startups that want to accelerate growth. As a small startup, the act of hiring in and of itself can be extremely time and energy consuming, which can be crippling at a critical time. If you can afford it, hire proactively rather than reactively.

Broken window theory

How many times have you said “I’ll come back to it” or “I’ll clean it up later”? Be it a piece of code or a post implementation review, if it doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass it’s sure to instigate decay by those inheriting your work.

One broken window, left unrepaired for any substantial length of time, instils in the inhabitants of the building a sense of abandonment — a sense that the powers that be don’t care about the building. So another window gets broken. People start littering. Graffiti appears. Serious structural damage begins. In a relatively short space of time, the building becomes damaged beyond the owner’s desire to fix it, and the sense of abandonment becomes reality.

— The Pragmatic Programmer

Broken window theory will have a negative impact, even if implicit, on company culture. Lead by example, don’t leave broken windows.

What gets measured gets managed

In order to practice Kaizen, you need to track and continuously monitor that which you wish to improve. If you were to think of this in terms of losing weight, its obvious that in order to realise the loss of weight you need to constantly step on a scale, but that alone does not guide the process, it merely informs you whether or not you have lost weight. Ask anyone who has lost significant weight and they will tell you that it’s extremely difficult to succeed without tracking calories in and calories out.

This principle can and should be applied to all aspects of your product or business such as platform performance, A/B testing pricing, productivity with strict in-office hours vs flexible work from home, the list goes on.

Improvement can sometimes be pinpointed to a source but more often than not, we don’t know why something worked, for example a successful marketing campaign; we can shrug our shoulders and celebrate but unless we can explain it, we won’t be able to guarantee repeated success. Try to get to the source, keep asking why until you find the reason.

“Ask ‘why’ five times about every matter.”

— Taiichi Ohno, Former Executive Vice President of Toyota

Share Your Insights

What principles or advice have you found to be invaluable in your company? We would love for you to share your stories and experiences growing your team and culture.

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