Tips for Building Great Startups with a Small Team

by Jake Rocheleau

on October 14, 2012

in Business/Freelance

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Not all startups will require a large team to get a product online and scale quickly. There are examples of single technical founders or even a team of 2-3 people building the initial frameworks for rapidly advancing Internet startups. You will see this type of startup more commonly in mobile app stores where the barrier to entry and profit margins are very high. But even websites and other startups can thrive in an environment with very few team members.

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In this article I’d like to delve into the concept of a startup and how to adjust the mindset of your team. It will require dedication from every person and long hours are commonplace in startup environments. But success is all about how you work and your willingness to change what isn’t working. The efficiency of your team will depend on everybody’s ability to communicate and share ideas with each other.

Restrict Attention and Focus

I should make it clear that I believe everybody on startup teams should understand 100% of what the goals are. That being said, it’s more beneficial to keep everybody focused on their own piece of the product when working day-to-day. This way you can have tasks split up by developers, designers, writers, marketers, etc.

As long as everybody on the team understands the end game then you’ll be running into fewer conflicts. Startups are generally built to scale quickly and gain traction in a fast-paced work environment. You don’t need managers checking in on what people are doing every day, or even every week(if ever!). It should be the responsibility of each teammate to keep themselves and each other on track and educated as the company goals change.

Karibu Games Tech Startup Office in Quito Ecuador

It may be helpful to have everybody gather together at the beginning or end of each week for a general meeting. Use this time to discuss any changes or important updates on the company. Allow anybody to ask questions and clear up problems in the workplace. This is a real solution for sharing important information that everybody needs to know without disrupting much of the work day.

Change is a Good Thing!

No really, it’s a great thing. Showing that you can update your business model is key to surviving months and years of struggle. The most profitable startups have understood when you need to pivot and change direction because something isn’t working, or because something could be working better. Maybe you’re spending too much time on email newsletters which just aren’t gaining traction.

Or alternatively maybe you need to pay more attention to design aesthetics & branding. No startup will go anywhere without a recognizable brand. And the only way to keep up with these requirements is to keep up with new changes. Have private conversations with everybody and gather input from each team member.

Be Picky yet Thorough

Every startup should be a reflection of each individual’s tastes and concepts. You want to build a product for which your whole team is proud – this keeps morale high and lets you know the company is on the right track. Knowing when to change something is a true sign of intelligence.

Startup School speaker Mark Zuckerberg Facebook CEO Founder

But understanding when some changes are just a waste of time is also important. This can’t be gauged by intelligence, but more reasoning and logic. You can’t waste time redesigning the website contact form if there are other more pressing issues to deal with.

You’ll run into these smaller bugs in your design and layout from time to time, but if they aren’t crucial then wait for a better day. I actually suggest taking one afternoon each week to go through any minor bugs and clean ‘em up. This way you have a large portion of time focused on real advancements while also incorporating general housekeeping into the work routine.

Watch Out for Organization Pitfalls

After first getting your startup online it feels like you could keep going for days. This is the most exciting period of any company, just like the honeymoon phase in most relationships. But don’t get so distracted by the traffic numbers that you forget to keep your own documents in check.

Organization will be one crucial aspect to your success or failure. There may not be a lot of information you need to organize, but keep it organized. Know where all your important documents are located and how to search through them. You never know when you’ll need company information or forget an important password. The same rules apply for website backups and other digital files.

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If your team has a small amount of money I suggest investing in an external hard drive dedicated solely for your startup. 2TB-3TB of data is more than enough to store your digital documents, website files, database backups, and anything else imperative to your startup. Having the data stored externally allows the whole team access to copy files and perform backups as needed.

User Experience is Priority #1

Most startups are based around some type of user experience. From desktop software, websites, mobile apps, these all require some userbase to access and utilize your product. So obviously without these people you have very little chance of earning money. That’s why their opinions are important and you should always consider the customer.

Now I should add that the customer is not always going to be right. Your team created the product and your team probably has the best idea for where you’re going in the future. Take suggestions and critiques from your userbase but don’t let them boss you around. I think a good rule of thumb is to see how many people are complaining about the same thing.

Flying over Silicon Valley San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

If the same problems are occurring and more users are getting annoyed then you’re sure to lose some early adopters. This is a point when your team should reconsider UX and provide a solution to these persisting issues. As you become more experienced it’ll be easier to pick up on what’s not working and what needs to be changed. Making these changes will also get easier with time as you learn to trust your team, and more importantly trust yourself.

Final Thoughts

Building the initial foundation for a startup idea is merely the beginning phase. A startup is no different than any other business and you’ll need to dedicate yourself in the long haul. Your founding team members are some of the greatest people who will get you through the inconsistency of launching.

However it is only possible to move one day at a time. Take these ideas with a grain of salt and see how you can apply them to your own startup ideas. Everybody is going to make mistakes and no single team of people is ultimately perfect. But don’t be afraid of making mistakes and learning from them! This is the arduous process everybody must walk to eventually acquire success with their startup.

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About Jake Rocheleau

Jake is a digital researcher and writer on many popular design magazines. He frequently writes on topics including web design, user experience, mobile apps, and project management. You can find him all throughout Google and tweeting @jakerocheleau. Connect with Jake on google+