“Storms make you wiser,” she stated and I nodded in agreement. One advantage of building a company ground up is the opportunity of spotting small problems with a potential to snowball into larger problems with time. It is simply about noticing a pattern, sensing dissatisfaction in the people around you and critically analyzing your methods of troubleshooting. These are the ‘mini storms’, because once you deal with these, you’re more capable to dealing with the bigger ones.
Since all of us fall under the same category (humans), the interactions boil down to expectations and aspirations. As a founder, you are bound to think from a single perspective while you’re expected to have a broader opinion. Employees (like customers) have segments too and can be categorized on the basis of similar backgrounds and needs. Not all team members are scalable, not everyone wants to grow. Matching our deliverables with their requirements is tricky yet essential.
My early lessons involved a team whose attitude got too big for its shoes, dishonest managers, misunderstanding cash flow, multiple low performing employees and numerous such things which all of us face yet don’t talk publicly about. Since these experiences were quite early in the life cycle of my business, the impact was low and the lessons were hard hitting. Small startups in their initial years do not have much buffers, and I faced the harsh impact of all the mentioned goof ups. Thankfully, multiple potential big storms were thus nipped in the bud.
My business (Hammer and Mop) is quite simple if you zoom out – we visit homes, clean them up, get paid for it and leave. Once you zoom in – you notice that it’s not easy to make people work for you (leave alone clean homes every single day for 8 hours), it’s not easy to train them to handle money accounts (since you have dispatched funds for expenses), it’s not easy to ensure safety & avoid damages at client properties (these are homes after all, stocked lovingly with personal belongings and delicate artifacts) and not easy to keep doing this throughout years.
If there is a blind spot in client communication (repeated complaints around a same point) or repeated goof-ups on client sites, the mini storms have lesser impact than bigger storms. Though complaints are not desirable, I’d rather have 10% of my clients complaining while serving 2000 customers, instead of 20,000. Fixing the cause and giving everything to solve problems at this scale (instead of brushing them under the carpet) is helping me understand the nuances at a deeper level, and saving my backside from a possible liability later on. The process of analyzing and reanalyzing all mini storms is helping us confront our customers (turning them into evangelists) and thus introduce changes in the process at this stage. It is easier to introduce a change (which results in a tougher, detailed system) with 40 people than it is to do the same with 400 people on board.
You slice off one neck, and two more will grow. That is true for Hydra, that is true for our businesses as well. Our baby startup is an ever evolving, ever changing phenomenon. The times change, people change, trends evolve and customers mature. Though mini storms toughen us up, the mini storms do not guarantee that new ones won’t crop up. Well frankly, paying attention and dealing with mini storms only ensures that newer (and better, more sophisticated ones) crop up – something that our growing business deserves. If a three year old company keeps dealing with the same issues it dealt with at the start, it is an alarming sign of immaturity.
Spotting Our Mini Storms
The concept is simply to look into all challenges and hurdles as ‘problems to be solved’. Take a step back, understand all factors, remove all personal equations, remove all stress (financial and not) and figure out the strings through which the ‘problem’ is affecting our business. Then focus on the ‘solution’ and steps to be taken to ensure the ‘problem’ doesn’t appear again. This might involve turning the existing way of things on their head. This might involve rapping a few employees on their knuckles. This might involve disciplining ourselves big time. Once the business undergoes the change, it should have transformed for the better, geared up for the bigger storms! “Startups build you,” as Arjun Jindam has affirmed.