All Articles

Two slow startup killers

Poor structure and misbehaving vendors: 2 slow killers of tech startups. I’ve seen them appear many times while working in early-stage startups. If you’re running a startup, fixing either of these can help your company thrive. Let’s take a look at both problems:

  1. Not having intentional processes

Many early-stage companies encourage a free-flow environment where priorities aren’t clearly defined, meetings to coordinate are scoffed at, and leadership delegates any planning. Leaders brand themselves as the opposite of bureaucratic megacorps, and they assume that their environment facilitates creativity and cooperation.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here’s what happens when you don’t have a process to provide a clear flow of information and ensure everyone has what they need:

  • Some employees will face endless roadblocks due to lack of feedback
  • Some will make decisions in isolation that don’t make sense
  • New employees will never osmose the information needed to be successful

Look, I get it. This doesn’t seem like work that gets companies off the ground. The work to meet people’s work needs isn’t fun or sexy, and often feels like endless hand-holding. But creating a process that ensures team members know without a shadow of a doubt what needs to be done can be one of the biggest unlocks a company can make.

  1. Lackluster vendors and consultants

In my experience, I’ve seen the following play out at many startups:

  • A startup approaches a dev shop or a consultancy.
  • The consultancy claims they’ll do a great job and be an amazing partner!
  • Said consultancy makes various uninofmred decisions to quickly achieve their goals.
  • Consultancy doesn’t document their work, because it’s not in their interest
  • Sometimes they’ll even host source code, as a “favor”
  • The product provided only does 1/2 of what it needs to.
  • The product provided only works on 2/3rds of the platforms required.
  • Fixing issues they caused is a change in scope.
  • At the end of the engagement, consultancy collects their fee and declares success.

It’s an awful business practice, on the dev shop’s part. And they’ll get away with it more often than not. Founders are simply too overwhelmed to hold them accountable. But if your product is software, make sure you have a way to keep vendors accountable. For vendors outside the existing team’s skillset, this can be tough.

Here’s a quick playbook for ensuring you have the bare minimum to keep operating.

  • Before you even start working together, ask how source code will be managed. The only acceptable answer is in a repository controlled by you.
  • Demand they produce a document on how to deploy it, with any gotchas.
  • Ensure there is sufficient documentation regarding build decisions made and their rationales.
  • Agree on how things like passwords and credentials will be managed.
  • If you no longer intend to work with this vendor, be sure to revoke their access.

Even if you don’t plan on looking at the code base on GitHub, these steps will ensure your company can continue after parting ways with your vendor. Think of setting up operations and working to own your product like securing your possession. It may not feel good comfortable or easy, but your business will be healthier in the long-term.

Published Mar 4, 2024

Thoughts on about software, tech, leadership, food and ceramics.