SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

Startups Need Starters

Posted by Bob Warfield on April 13, 2010

Just a short post for my Helpstream Learnings series today:

Reading 37Signals latest book, “Rework“, has crystalized a few thoughts I’d been having since Helpstream.  It’s a great read, BTW, if you haven’t already checked it out.

This particular post is about Starters.  The authors of Rework want to drop the term “entrepreneur” and switch to “Starter”, but I think Starter needs an even broader meaning to fit an even more important role.  Sure, every startup will have its designated entrepreneur in the form of its founder(s) and hopefully its leadership.  The thing is, everyone needs to be a Starter in a startup.   Starters are people who can get something done without other people.  They’re the leaves of the value creation tree.   It sounds funny to think of it that way, and many will ask, “Don’t you just mean employees?”  The answer is, “No, I don’t just mean employees, and that’s the essential point.”

Traditional business, particularly large organizations, often think of employees and managers.  The employees do the work and the managers manage the employees.  But a startup can’t afford this luxury.  Managers need to be able to do work too.   A manager that can get something done without other people is a Starter, and these are the types of managers you want in your startup.  That’s not to say they can’t manage.  Startups are tough environments.  You want the people who can do it all.  I’m convinced this is one of the big problems with hiring Big Company people into Startups.  They’re probably excellent managers, perhaps better than the average Startup manager.  But very often they are not startups.  Take away their staff and consultants and they don’t get anything done.

Look at span of control.  A good manager can optimally handle 7 to 9 reports, and a great manager can handle more.  But a startup may consist of only 15 people in its early stages.  The CEO should have more reports than anyone, and even then it won’t amount 9 if they have very many VP’s.  The VP’s may have 2 or 3.  A pure manager with 2 reports can’t accomplish much.  Instead of charging that overhead against 7 to 9, it is charged against 2 or 3.  Suddenly that is a very expensive executive indeed.  And what if a VP has no reports and isn’t a Starter?  Do they just not get anything done?  Startups never have enough people, money or other resources.  You need all the Starters you can get, and you need to minimize the overhead of professional managers until you can get big enough to have something for them to do.

Hire Starters who are great Managers.  Whatever it is they manage, make sure they can contribute something more that doesn’t require other people.  Make sure it is something important.  Can your VP of Sales manage your CRM system and run all the reports?  Can they make all the sales calls until you’re big enough to keep a full-time Account Executive fed?  Can your VP of Marketing write the marketing content?  Can they blog, write ads, do copy for the web site, and email blasts for Marketo?  Ours could at Helpstream, and it made a huge difference.  We ran leaner, we got more done, and we were better aligned in our purpose.

9 Responses to “Startups Need Starters”

  1. […] Update: This quick rant by Bob Warfield is worth reading:  Startups Need Starters […]

  2. […] Update: This quick rant by Bob Warfield is worth reading:  Startups Need Starters […]

  3. […] Startups Need Starters « SmoothSpan Blog Share and Enjoy: […]

  4. […] the last thing about the Bootstrap team to think about?  You need a critical mass of starters.  I’ve written about the idea of starters before, and much of my thinking was crystallized after reading 37Signals latest book, Rework.  Starters […]

  5. […] the last thing about the Bootstrap team to think about?  You need a critical mass of starters.  I’ve written about the idea of starters before, and much of my thinking was crystallized after reading 37Signals latest book, Rework.  Starters […]

  6. […] more it will trend towards the Follower Economy.  Small groups can keep enough individualists and starters that they escape the Follower Economy easily.  That’s why startups can be so much fun and can […]

  7. […] more it will trend towards the Follower Economy.  Small groups can keep enough individualists and starters that they escape the Follower Economy easily.  That’s why startups can be so much fun and can get […]

  8. […] out, because there is no one else to call. As such, we all wear lots of hats and we all have to be Starters to git ‘er […]

  9. […] out, because there is no one else to call. As such, we all wear lots of hats and we all have to be Starters to git ‘er […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: