Startups are the Horatio Alger myth of business. You scramble hard, go guerrilla, build your company, and you come out on top. We all know that startups can face failure, but it's that persistent and scrappy nature that gets you ahead.
Or does it? For all the craziness of a startup's early stages, many entrepreneurs go beyond embracing a startup's quirks and indulge in them. Their companies become, if you'll pardon the temporary gender bias, like one of the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. They want to keep running the way they have and never grow up, like the difference not so long ago between a Groupon and a Facebook.
Even when your company is young, start building the mechanisms, processes, practices, and culture you'll need for long-term success. Otherwise, you run the risk of suddenly having to mature in a short amount of time without preparation, making the transition into commercial adulthood far more difficult and risky. It doesn't mean you should expect to look like a mature company, but do see where you need to go.
Establish a culture of innovation
Startups like to think of themselves as engines of innovation. But if you really want to see innovation in full action, look at giants that know how to do it. Such companies as IBM, Apple, and 3M regularly undertake both fundamental types of innovation: groundbreaking work and refinement of previous breakthroughs. They can do this because their organizations understand how to nurture and support innovation, from employees coming up with new ideas through creating new products--and building substantive legal protection.
Create efficient customer service
Customer service can make or break a company, particularly when problems arise, as they always will. A study in the Harvard Business Review shows that companies build customer loyalty through quickly solving problems, not by extraordinary acts of service. It's not as flashy as overnighting a product to someone in the middle of a vacation on an exotic island so that person can continue to enjoy the time off, but it's the solid type of daily activity that pays off.
Empower employees and end micromanaging
Your business is your baby and you want everything to run to your standards. That's fine, but learn how to do it without looking over everyone's shoulder all the time. Such a degree of vigilance is impossible to maintain, and it's also wrongheaded. The more your business grows, the more time you must devote to strategy and management. You have less direct time with customers, vendors, and partners. The people who do, your staff, will actually know more about the current situations than you will. And that's fine. Train them to understand the principles that common decisions will need, and then get out of the way and let them work.
Build a solid sales organization
You need revenue growth and, eventually, solid profits. To do so requires a solid sales organization, as sales consultant Lori Richardson explains. That means regular prospecting and developing a sense of who is most likely to buy. I'd add that you also need to understand which customers are most profitable and to develop predictable sales processes that you can monitor, improve, and ultimately scale.
Develop management depth
Early on, you might be working with friends or colleagues from former employers. But your company will have its own needs for management experience that you have to develop. Relying just on people you know can be a mistake. So can assuming that you'll always be the CEO, as one day your company might need something you're not best suited to provide. You'll also want the depth to allow people to rise in the organization and cover for others on a temporary basis if needed, should someone unexpectedly leave your service. Hammer out the metrics that show what makes a difference to your business and then monitor them. Create a professional organization from top to bottom.