Defining Startup Operations

I’m trying a new thing on this blog, writing short posts periodically about operations. Especially related to early stage startups.

A disclaimer: I’m no expert but write about my observations and what I learn.

Why write about startup operations? Primarily for a couple of reasons a)I haven’t found much written on operations from a startup perspective especially in early stage ones b)It’s part of what I do – I love operations and processes. c) For myself, writing brings me clarity.

Small startups rarely have COO’s and often rightly so – it’s hard to justify the need of a manager who’s job is to solely make sure things are going operationally well. Heck, it’s hard to justify managers as employees in an early stage startup.

At the same time it’s really hard to sustain a company without an operational mindset. Even a really small one.

Nearly all companies starting out follow the same formula – 1. Do 2. Don’t think too much 3. Whenever things don’t work try another route (usually called pivoting to make it sound better).

Which is totally fine if the risks associated are really low – the company is a side project, already have a day job, in college etc. Lack of operations is a big reason on why companies fail and some don’t.

In this first post I would like to define operations and answer the basic question – what are operations especially in a startup context?

Operations are understanding what mission the company is working towards and making sure everyone in the company is maniacally focused on the mission. Then providing an environment so all the people can best do so in an optimized way.

Let’s tease this out a bit in what this means as a startup.

The first part is understanding what mission a company is working towards and helping people work towards it, which may translate to: helping chalk out what the mission and vision as it grows. I don’t think all companies start out with world changing missions, they may be just trying to solve a problem the founders have. Understanding the direction you’re going is key,  doesn’t matter how fast you go if you’re going in the wrong one.

The next part “providing an environment where people can best do so” usually involves gradual introduction of processes and structure as a company grows.That’s how fluid an operations role in a startup can be. It has to match the need of the company while it evolves. You can’t introduce too much structure too early on but still have to define the critical basic structure.

And the last part “in an optimized way” – is even more critical in startups since they work with limited resources.

More in the next post!

Side Note: Writing is so much harder than drawing graphs!


2 thoughts on “Defining Startup Operations

  1. Looking forward to more posts on this topic. In regards to the structure/process discussion, I believe that if you hire great people, the less structure/process you need.

    • You’re absolutely right! But I think the key is that it’s never zero. You don’t want to suffocate great and unique individuals with extraneous structure where they can’t have a unique impact, but still need that critical amount to channel the brilliance and energy.

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