At the end of the day, success is always the result of who can adjust to the demands of the market faster.
When you’re building a startup, speed is everything.
As a young company, your brand is not as well known as other companies in your space. You don’t have as many resources—whether it’s time or money. And you also might be going up against a competitor that has 20,000 employees (whereas you have two employees), or they might have $2,000,000,000 in their bank account while you have $20,000 in yours.
So how are you going to win?
I think the answer comes down to three things: authenticity, innovation, and speed.
One of your advantages as a startup is the fact that many of the big corporations have gotten to be so big that it’s difficult for them to pivot. They’re scared to make drastic decisions, or change how they operate or communicate with their customers or clients. As a result, their resources are typically not as efficiently used, which means you have plenty of opportunities to find gaps in their execution—and ways for you to stand out in the market.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, both on the startup side and the corporation side. But at the end of the day, success is always the result of who can adjust to the demands of the market faster.
1. Hire with a fast-moving culture in mind.
As a founder, you always want to be thinking about how the next person you hire is going to impact your company’s culture.
Not everyone is cut out to work for a startup. This is something we had to be extremely conscious of when we were first starting Four Sigmatic. We knew we were going to have to be a fast-paced team if we were going to compete in the health and wellness space, so every hire we made had to fit the vision we had for the culture we wanted to cultivate.
This means looking for people who don’t just want to clock in at 9:00 a.m. and clock out at 5:00 p.m. People who don’t mind answering emails late at night, over weekends, and who are alright with pivoting and changing processes on a monthly or even weekly basis.
Obviously, for the sake of long-term success, you have to still allow employees to take time off and enjoy their holidays, but what you’re really looking for are people who thrive within chaos. People who want ownership (literally and figuratively).
People who want to grow, and who want to take on more responsibility.
In a large company, it might take years before an employee gets an opportunity like that. In a fast-moving startup, this is just part of the job.
2. Look for generalists, not specialists.
Depending on how old your startup is, you’re going to be looking for different things in the people you hire.
If you’re just starting out, you’re probably looking for most generalists than specialists. If you only have the budget to hire one or two people, then you want those people to be able to wear multiple hats. Whereas if you’re in the later stages of building a startup, you are going to start looking for specialists—because you have roles clearly defined.
However, there’s this forever balance between visionaries and operators, generalists and specialists. And that’s the magic sauce of figuring out who you need at what stage of the process.
Regardless, the one piece of advice that is important (whether your startup is two weeks old or two years old) is that you always want there to be clear decision makers in the organization. Things start to get messy as soon as people don’t know who to listen to.
So if you want to run fast, and you want to get things done quickly, the best way to accomplish that is to define a single authority figure who sets the direction and purpose.
This way, everyone is on the same page.
3. Identify your non-negotiables—then let your team work within that framework.
Your non-negotiables are your values, your mission, and your objectives.
As often as you can, you need to be clear with your team about what the company is setting out to achieve. Also, what are the things the company doesn’t want to achieve? What’s a waste of time and what’s a priority? This constant differentiation process helps people decide, “We’re going to do X, and we’re not going to do Y.”
From the very beginning, we tried to narrow down who we were really trying to appeal to, what sort of customer base we were looking to attract, and how we wanted to improve our product and messaging over time. But this same decision-making process can be applied to just about every aspect of the business.
- Geography: “We’re only going to focus on selling in the United States.”
- Sales: “We’re only going to sell on our website and Amazon. Nowhere else.”
- Demographic: “We’re going to spend the next 6 months only targeting moms.”
As time goes on, you can then slowly expand each of these categories based on what you learn or what progress you’ve made. But by making these sorts of hyper-focused decisions, it becomes easier for you and your team to move faster—because the amount of options becomes shorter.
A great metaphor here is a haiku poem. The more you limit the options, the more creative you can get within that framework.
When it comes to speed, “less” is more.
4. Be a strong, consistent leader.
Finally, one of the things you always have to be conscious of is optimizing for long-term consistency.
If you’re the founder, 80-100 hour work weeks quickly become “the norm.” But the truth is, that intense schedule is unsustainable and unpredictable. Some weeks, you’ll force yourself to push through and get a million things done. But then the next week (because you’re so tired from the week before) you might get half the amount of work done.
Long-term, this sends the wrong message to your team—and honestly, just isn’t very effective.
Finding ways to take care of your mind and body along the way can be a huge driver in personal and company-wide productivity. Which means you have to work hard to create a culture where people know what it is they’re working toward.
If you can do that, you’ll be in a great position to grow, pivot, and scale with ease.