5 Tips on Operations for Startups
Building a startup can feel like you are on the starting line of a race, the gun is fired, and no one (except you!) moves forward. Startups are constantly going through rapid change and whether you are fundraising, prospecting new clients or hiring it feels like your team is always going through big jumps and changes. As the founder, you are ready and the expectation is that your team is to.
The role of operations is to set up your teams to be ready, willing and able to move forward everyday. In our most recent founder’s workshop, Kristen Shannon, CEO and Founder of Highliner Technology, shared actionable tactics on how to get your team ready and how to set up the operational processes to translate strategy into action.
Keep reading for five tips on operations for startup founders and leaders:
TIP #1: BREAK DOWN OPERATIONS INTO THREE PILLARS FOR SCALING
You are clear on the objective of operations: get your team ready, willing and able. Next, operations can be broken down into three pillars for scaling. The first pillar revolves around people, the recruitment, hiring, onboarding and development of one’s team. Second, product and tech innovation, which revolves around the continual development of the business. Third, revenue and user expansion, which includes sales operations. Finally, over all of these functions is the vision and direction of the company. Operations is responsible for embedding the culture of the company into every pillar of the organization. You can utilize these pillars to pinpoint where you as a founder are spending most of your time and what you might need to hire for.
TIP #2: UNDERSTAND EVERYONE’S ROLE TO SPEND TIME EFFECTIVELY
CEO: The CEO’s role is to set and communicate the vision and direction of the company. Letting the company know what you are doing and where you are going.
EXECUTIVES: The executives are responsible for representing their function within the organization while feeding into the larger vision and direction of the company. It’s important to note that they wear two hats: a larger, cross functional hat and another for their individual function.
BOARD: The board is there to support you, the founder, but they also play a key role in reviewing and challenging what’s going on within the organization.
TIP #3: KNOW WHO TO HIRE AND HOW TO IDENTIFY IF SOMEONE IS A FIT
Operations employees can have to deal with high confidentiality items including recruitment, pay and benefits. How are you making sure you are hiring the right person for the job? Ensure they exhibit attention to detail, prioritization skills and confidentiality. To understand if someone has those skills, try the below entry exercises:
- Prompt 1: You have 10 minutes and 10 emails. How are you prioritizing these? What are you executing now and what is going to have to wait?
- Prompt 2: Present the candidate a reconciliation task. Even if it is not a finance specialist, finding the gap is a skill operations hires need.
- Prompt 3: Can you give me an example of a time that there was a concern at work and how you handled it?
TIP #4: OPERATIONALIZE YOUR CADENCE STRUCTURES (AKA ALL OF YOUR MEETINGS)
When your company grows it is essential to build a cadence and structure for when all of your meetings will take place. This includes annual planning cycles, quarterly exec reviews, board reviews, all hands on meetings, weekly prioritization meetings and even one to ones. It is part of the job of an operations hire to plan these meetings, ensure agendas are set and make sure they happen.
TIP #5: CREATE RITUALS AND SHARED LANGUAGES FOR YOUR TEAMS
As a founder, there is power in everything you say. Your team might stop their work because of an article you shared on Slack even if that wasn’t your intention. For startups, instead of having a full, multi-step process for how things get communicated, you can create rituals to give your team clues on when and what they need to pay attention to. A few examples:
- For requests or information: Be clear if you need an action from your team. Before you ask a question in bold write “ACTION NEEDED” so your team is clear on the task and level of importance. Other headlines could include, “POSTING THIS FOR YOUR INTEREST,” “LOOKING FOR FEEDBACK” etc.
- For headspace and capacity: At every team meeting, have employees share their headspace and capacity. This ritual allows leaders to understand the headspace and capacity of their team every week and they don’t need a set cadence of meetings to regularly check in on this.
At January Ventures, we’re committed to demystifying venture capital. This workshop was part of our Founders Workshop Series and aimed to give insight into how to get your team ready and how to set up the operational processes to translate strategy into action. Thank you to our partners Oracle for Startups and AngelList for their continued support and for making this event possible.