Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

startups and structure

Posted in startups by Timothy Platt on September 14, 2009

I have worked with a variety of startups over the years and have frequently found myself thinking of a line that a colleague of mine, Gary Guttman has shared with me – “startups are what I do when I am not making money.”  There is always an element of truth to that as entering into a startup is something of an act of faith, in your ability to persevere and succeed and in the value of the idea you would turn into an active enterprise.  I have just started this blog and yes, I am currently working with a great team in building a new business, as well as doing some consulting with a few others.  So this being a double new beginning, I wanted to share some thoughts about startups and the challenges of getting them to work.

I just posted a note touching on business plans and developing and following through on an agenda but peeling back the onion another layer, there are even more basic issues that have to be dealt with.  One of them is that most people who set out to start and build a business learned how to work in one of them in the environment and context of an established organization with a defined table of organization and with processes and practices, and a corporate culture in place.  I did not include strategy there as way too may businesses and organizations in general have partly connected strategies at best and spend a great deal of time and effort doing things one-off, and ad hoc, and reactively.  But that is more properly the topic of another posting.  Mostly I cite here that people who move out of this comfort zone of structure and familiarity to build from scratch take an underlying assumption of structure with them.

This is particularly important for the people who are leading teams to create that startup as they have to set aside the automatic and even cultural assumptions of building from within, to one of setting out to create and provide that order.  And it is the little things that will get you if you don’t consciously do this – the little details that are all to easy to take for granted but that are not going to be there until you build them and make them explicitly known.

The general tenor and direction of all these details constitutes your strategy, or rather shows whether you have one or not but operationally, the many little details and how you address them become your basic processes and the workings of your business.

The devil, it is said, is in the details.  That is primarily true for the details that are overlooked and taken for granted until they are way past due and complications are developing.  So the person or people creating a startup have to have that grand vision as to where they seek to go with their new venture, but at the same time they need to keep an eye on the details and on creating that structure that others in the team can work and thrive in.

Why am I writing this particular note now?  Because I have seen so many would-be businesses fail, or at best succeed with avoidable delays and complications because no one has built or maintained that fundamental organizing structure, and with consistency where it is beneficial and across the entire organization.

Yes, this basic comes up with more developed businesses too and certainly where mergers and acquisitions enter in but that is for another posting too.

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