Managing for uncertainty requires a unique skillset that you don’t often hear about. Unlike the luxuries of an established company, you have to prioritize how to work with minimal resources. The corporate world, in contrast, allows managers to allocate resources in a decision process attempts to be perfectly causal, e.g. ‘if I spend x, I will get y in return.’
So, here are the tricks that are not necessarily causal, but help you allocate scarce resources and remain flexible. Your goal as a startup manager is, broadly, to allocate scarce resources for an optimal outcome. You need to capture as many of those scarce resources (mainly your time) by investing in things and making decisions that free up resources. It’s a balance between time and money.
How do you do it tactically?
Remember, the last 10% will take 90% of the time
Automating something perfectly or finishing something completely will take way more time than getting to 90%. Find a stopping point and let the project go. For instance, you can always dump several reports into excel and do basic reporting, instead of building a web service to do it for you.
Standardize process and distribute work to your team
Set very strict guidelines for how you want things like expense reports submitted. Make sure everyone complies. Send people to a document that explains how to do it and don’t accept any aberration. People learn very quickly when you have strict guidelines. Make sure you create a place that people can “self-service” questions so you can refer to a link instead of cut/paste or retyping an email.
Hire people on MTurk for “form” projects
If you have a defined project that fits in forms, hire Mturkers to do it. We got a media list from DEMO (where we launched), but the list didn’t have any contact info or phone numbers. So, we spent $67 on Mturk and got all that information within 24 hours.
Politely drop low value customers
You can spend a lot of time working with small accounts and customers that won’t make a difference to your business. You have to put customers first, but if you are spending hours supporting a three person tech startup, that can be a negative use of resources.
Don’t buy tools unless you absolutely need them
It’s amazing what you can do with csv reports, excel and basic forms. As a startup, you can pretty much do everything a CRM, Marketing Automation or BI tool can do. You will need these tools in the future, but don’t buy them now.
Free isn’t necessarily better
You could build your own mail server, but why would you? You need to free up resources to focus on your competitive advantage. Can you buy a SaaS product that has a clear ROI for your team? Google Apps is the obvious example here.
Buy Xero and ADP Run
Xero makes reporting financials simple. ADP run makes payroll really easy. These are simply tools that will save you hours. Don’t buy some small startup payroll solution. These things have big companies behind them because they work. You probably don’t need an accountant if you have these services.
Beware consultants and other service providers
If a consultant asks for you to pay them money, make sure they demonstrate their value prior to you putting together a contract. I would avoid paying any consultant until it’s clear that you absolutely need that skillset.
Delegate Early and Often
If you are a founder, it’s hard to trust others to do a job. Learning to trust people even if they have a different approach or it’s 90% of what you want (remember that’s ok), can be difficult, but it’s a lot easier than doing it all yourself.
It may seem like small teams face a lot of disruption when someone leaves or is let go, but the reality is that people who aren’t performing will cause more harm then good, especially as time passes. Trust your gut about someone and don’t wait to ask them to leave.
What other tricks do you use to save time and more efficiently free up resources in your startup?