We are a startup

Being part of a startup is not an excuse for you 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 or development practices. Being a startup is not an excuse for you to have zero process or letting your developers be trigger happy. It is also not an excuse for condoning sloppy employee behavior like taking leave without adequate notice or working from home on a short notice.

I have heard of stories in startups where everyone writes components in a language of their own choosing. If today’s fad is Node, then the developer uses Node and if tomorrow hacker news has a post touting the next greatest 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 directly in production. We are only a couple of people, hence we do not need version control. Since I am a single guy who handles servers, configuration files are not in version control, my brain is my GIT repository.

A start up is an opportunity for you to move fast without being burdened by the bureaucracies/politics of big organizations. Say for example, if you find an employee kicking ass, as a manager in a start up you can give him a raise by having a quick chat with the CEO. In a big organization, you have to make a case for that, present it to a committee, justify why someone should be given an out of turn raise etc etc. It is also an opportunity for you to trust people and call them out when you see something odd without processizing it. For example, if you see someone working from home on a very regular basis and it does not work for you, instead of floating a blanket rule saying work from home is prohibited there by 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 with him. This is very difficult to pull off in a big organization that has thousands of employees but highly doable in a startup.

A startup is an opportunity for you to create an atmosphere based on trust rather than draconian processes. Let us take technology choice for example. Big organizations have lots of rules and regulations on what technology can be used, what cannot be used, how to buy licenses etc etc. This is made with the central assertion 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 a policy for all employees from then on. Individual responsibility trumps rules any day, it is difficult to implement and follow this 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 whether you are trying to mask your inefficiencies in the guise of being a start up.