Once your start-up grows to more than 10 people, it's hard to maintain a sense of organizational focus. Here's how we did it at IndieGoGo.
If you run a start-up, you know a whole new definition of "busy." In the time I've been leading the worldwide crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo, I've learned the importance of doing what needs to be done rather than trying to accomplish everything on my to-do list all at once. As Bill Gross, the founder of Idealabs, recently proclaimed at a TEDx event in Southern California, the key is "focus, focus, focus." Now, that's something not too tricky to accomplish as an individual, but what about creating the idea of focus within a fast-growing team of employees?
The goal of my company, IndieGoGo, is to provide a way for anyone to raise money for anything, anywhere in the world. It's working: We have grown from five to 18 employees in the last six months. Along the way, we've learned an important lesson: Once your company is made up of more than 10 people, it is both harder and more important to have everyone on the team "singing the same song." At a start-up, it is important to continually review plans since tactics and personnel can change very quickly and incorrect assumptions can be made.
Meetings Can Be Your Friend
At IndieGoGo, we used to rely on e-mail and periodic meetings or phone calls to make decisions. Given coworkers' busy schedules, it was often difficult to ensure everyone is on the same page. Today we are shifting to a culture of consistency and proactive planning—instead of always reacting. This includes a fluid set of meetings for sharing and decision-making: quarterly board meetings, bi-weekly initiative status gatherings, weekly management talks, and daily team kick-off meetings. I've really come to believe that communicating your core messages clearly (and often!) is the key to keeping everyone on track.
Communicate Your Values Effectively
Keeping your team on track starts with values—the principles that guide an organization's internal conduct as well as its relationship with its stakeholders. This might seem fluffy, but the first step to building a solid infrastructure is setting a strong foundation. Having clear values will help in recruiting, executing project, and when making the tough decisions. As a founder, you also need to ensure your team understands your business model and how to execute against the long-term plans. The plan implemented to generate revenue and make a profit from operations in the start-up world can of course be fluid. Some companies change their models every quarter, while others never even focus on it. Changing directions to accommodate company focus or shifts in your industry happen. Just always maintain a clear understanding of the company's business model. This includes both knowing what the business model is and also what it is not—for example, IndieGoGo's business model is to charge a marketplace fee on transaction volume, not charge consulting fees for one-off development.
Finally, keeping focus requires having a way to prioritize. It is important to let your business decisions and goals drive your priorities—as opposed to listening to the loudest person in the room. If time allows, you can use a criteria model to score each decision. Keep in mind such models are only as good as the input you put in. Do not doubt your instinct.
Consider the points above to be a baseline recipe for setting your team on a path to success. But, of course, all substitutes and creative changes are welcome, based on your team's unique experience or philosophy. Let us know in the comments if you have other tips on communicating and keeping your team focused.