Being part of a startup is not an excuse to shoot first and ask questions later. “We are a startup” is the most common phrase people spout when you ask them about their sloppy processes and development practices. Being a startup cannot justify having zero process or letting developers be trigger happy. Being a startup cannot be a reason for condoning poor employee behavior, like taking leave without adequate notice or working from home on short notice.
I am privy to startup lores where everyone writes components in the language of their choosing. If today’s fad is Node, then the developer uses Node and if tomorrow hacker news has a post touting the next most magnificent language, the developer switches to that. We are a startup; we do not have a QA and pre-production environment for testing; we test code in production. We are only a couple of people. Hence we do not need version control. Since I am a single guy who manages servers, configuration files are not in version control; my brain is my GIT repository.
Being part of a startup is an opportunity to move fast without being burdened by the bureaucracies and politics of big organizations. Say, for example, you find an employee kicking ass. As a manager/lead in a startup, you can give that person a raise by having a quick chat with the CEO. In a big organization, you have to make a case for that. You need to present it to a committee, justify why someone should be given an out of turn raise. There are a lengthy process and guidelines for these sort of things. It is also an opportunity for you to trust people and call them out when you see something odd without introducing a process around it. If you see someone working from home on a very regular basis, and it is hampering work, instead of floating a blanket rule saying work from home is prohibited, thereby inconveniencing other employees who use it judiciously, you talk to the person and see what is the problem that person is facing and try to solve it. This is difficult to pull off in a big organization that has thousands of employees but doable in a startup.
A startup lets you create an atmosphere based on trust rather than draconian processes. Let us take a technology choice, for example. Big organizations have lots of rules and regulations are technology choices, buying licenses, etc. The reason is that individuals are not responsible enough, so let us decide by committee. In a startup, you do not need to introduce a process for this. You can trust your employees to make the right technology choices as long as they do not go bonkers with it. If something goes wrong with a technology choice, you can talk to that person and figure out where he went wrong instead of mandating policy for all employees from then on. Individual responsibility trumps rules any day, it is challenging to implement and follow in a large company but can be easily pulled off in a small organization.
Next time when you use the phrase “We are a startup,” think hard whether you are trying to mask inefficiencies in the guise of being a startup.