Working in a startup is an experience unlike any other in the working world, and you don't need to be a startup founder to know what I'm talking about.
There's no way to quantify the energy you feel working in a setting where there is so much uncertainty. Employees in a startup are chasing a shared vision of what business success looks like, and it's an all-hands-on-deck affair. Big successes and huge failures come in rapid succession, and the only constant is massive change.
The thing about a lot of startups is that they grow up into something else entirely: established businesses. This transition can be a tricky to say the least. As businesses grow they need systems and processes in place to handle all the change. At the same time, if you get bogged down in systems you lose the startup energy that fueled the company to start with.
I've been through this with Infusionsoft as it grew from a company of myself and two other founders to one with more than 675 employees and nearly $100 million in revenue.
What have I learned about this transition? While systems and processes are essential, you can never stop treating your company like a startup if you want to keep growing.
Here's how to run your business--no matter its age and size--like a startup.
1. Keep the focus on solving problems
Startups are constantly faced with problems that need solving. Everything is new in a startup environment, and that can be a positive or a negative. That newness provides the opportunity to stretch your creativity, but it's also guaranteed to present situations where a growing list of problems can be overwhelming.
The key to keeping the focus on problem solving is to hire people who thrive in a startup environment. It's definitely not for everybody, but if you find people comfortable with uncertainty they are likely to attack problems with vigor and provide solutions. Then they will keep taking that approach as the business grows and scales.
At Infusionsoft, we hire folks that thrive on problem solving--and we empower them to be part of the solutions. From feedback tools to capture the voice of the employee to companywide planning exercises that involved people from every level of the company, we collectively focus on solving problems and creating a better customer experience.
2. Practice open and real communication
To run a big business like a startup, leadership needs to talk openly about challenges and empower people to fix what needs to be improved. I've always held this belief and knew our people had the solutions to our problem.
The key from a leadership perspective is to make everyone aware of the challenges, and that goes back to a startup mentality. As a business is founded, everyone knows the challenges--there's no way not to. But as businesses scale, communication becomes more important because there are more levels of an organization to navigate. Practicing open and real communication cuts through the noise and as the leader of your business, that open and real communication starts with you.
This is why to this day I still take the time to connect with my people at all levels. To name just a few, I host quarterly executive meetings, quarterly department chats, monthly people-leader meetings, monthly all-company meetings and weekly employee chats. These meetings are all set aside to communicate the state of the business and to allow people to ask questions and share invaluable insight.
3. Never stop innovating
I believe that ultimately "startup" is a state of mind, and innovation is the biggest trait that defines it.
It's easy for the leadership in big companies to fall into routines and put the sort of protocols in place that allow the business to essentially run itself. There have been times where I've seen myself fall into that trap, but one thought snaps me back into the startup mode: Big companies die because they stop innovating.
This is why one of our core values living on our walls for everyone to see is, "We innovate and constantly improve." We've made innovation part of our DNA and growth as a measure of our success.