Monday Afternoon – At 30,000 Feet Flying
to Cornell University
Did you know managing a startup falls into three phases? That is what my research reveals. And like special teams called upon to do special tasks, your special skills will work best on one of the three phases. Pick wisely.
Chaos is first. The vice president of marketing - often VP of business development -scurries about out there trying to find the ideal first customers and what they are eager to purchase. The vice president of engineering (often the Chief Technology Officer) does some tests and proof of concept to determine how difficult it will be to build what the customers want. The CEO meanwhile will spend most of his time raising the seed round of financing. It is a very unstructured time, filled with great uncertainty and a high sense of urgency. Often the discoveries of the VP of Biz Dev will completely upset the plans of the company: a stealth startup pops up with a better product or customers want something very different that what the core team expected. This phase ends in less than one year with about 5 employees. They agree on what the first product or service will be and know what has to be done to produce. The company is very secretive.
Launch is second. The first product is built and introduced to the market. The first customers send money. The company grows to about 50 employees. A large second round of financing will be completed. The top management team is finished by hiring the CFO, VP Sales and VP of Operations. The organization chart starts to settle down and stops being obsolete each month. Recruiting becomes a weekly task for everyone. The company communicates openly with the outside world. Structure and methods and procedures begin to become part of how things are done. The Chaos phase people begin to get bored.
Accelerate is next. The hot first product is followed by several more. The company converts from selling to taking orders. The number of employees grows to 500. Recruiting becomes a daily task. All eyes are on the IPO goal: get public money within three years. Top management runs a tighter ship with annual plans and careful compensation packages. The bosses stick to goals set for each year. Business becomes predictable within reasonable margins of error. The company has a mission statement. Top management has lots of university degrees and is known to Wall Street. The Chaos people have either left or gone to sleep. The company is on its way to becoming the gorilla of a new market, an exciting category the press is eager to write about.
BOTTOM LINE: Pick the phase you think fits your idea of what is attractive to work in. Then compare your skills to what the company needs in that phase. Your management talent and experience will best fit one of them. Choose wisely.