Donec quam felis, ultricies nec, pellentesque eu, pretium quis, sem nulla consequat. Aenean massa.


There Are No LEGO Instructions For Your Startup


Emmett: What do I do? I don’t have my instructions!

I just saw LEGO The Movie. This movie successfully transported me back to my childhood but it also tossed me about in the now and future. It had a modern day nostalgic feel to it. For me, it did a great job showing life in a big company as well as in a startup. The big company was laughable. You know, lack of creativity and innovation. It was all about instructions, process and procedures. It’s a place where there are no original thoughts. In contrast, there’s Cloud Cuckoo Land a wonderful playground where anything you can imagine can exist. There are no rules, you can build whatever you want, you can do whatever you want. It’s just like a startup!
All of this reminded me about a book I recently finished called The Startup Owners Manual by Steve Blank. One concept that he focused on was “A Startup is Not a Smaller Version of a Large Company“.
In the past, I’ve questioned myself and my leadership abilities while running my company because of employees that have pressed to want organizational structure that resembles a large company. I believe that they thought that we were unorganized and chaotic. After having thought about this for a while, I think their expectation is that we would look more like a small version of a large company.

Big Company Employees Make Terrible Startup Employees

Employees who have only worked in big companies just don’t know any better. This is why most big company employees make terrible startup employees.

“Entrepreneurs who have run a startup know that startups are not small versions of big companies. Rather they are different in every possible way – from goals, to measurements, from employees to culture.” – Steve Blank

Everything in a startup is about launching, shipping, iterating as fast as you can before you run out of runway and money. Figuring out whether or not you have a minimum viable product MVP and whether or not you have Product Market Fit is so critical. If you can’t figure that part out there’s no reason to keep on pressing and investing in it.

Employees Might Feel Like They Are Getting Whiplash

When things are constantly changing direction, employees might feel like they are getting whiplash. Given this is startup culture, you might want to make sure you are hiring new employees for your company that can withstand this kind of fast pace work environment. Hire for these traits and characteristics:

  • Focus on outcomes, not process. You only create process when you are successfully getting specific outcomes, otherwise, you’re just creating speed bumps. For me it’s all about results. Once you get those results, rise, repeat.
  • Flexible, able to multitask, and change directions on dime. You’re going to pivot, what you started with is very rarely what you’re going to end up with. Enjoy the journey and embrace change.
  • Smart and curious. You need people that can figure things out and love to learn. You need smart people that are intellectually curious that don’t just check things off a list for the sake of getting on to the next task. There are no LEGO instructions for your startup.
  • Ideally, the best kind of person to work in a startup is one that has experience in a big company and has also run through a cycle in a startup too. With big company experience they know what it’s like to be a tiny little cog in a giant machine and follow the exact instructions. They will understand that as the company moves from startup to small company that additional systems and procedures will be necessary in order to scale. With experience in a startup they will appreciate the flexibility, have the skills to create, thrive without instruction, and not become “The Piece of Resistance“. When a person has both sets of experience they are able to grow with you and the company at it goes through its various stages.

Chief Pot Stirrer @thinkspace


  • Sami Dyer

    February 17, 2014

    Hmmmm… this is interesting hearing your insight on the difference between corporate and start-ups! You are definitely passionate about what you do every day. I believe that there has to be a balance between “whiplash” and structure. This is why defined roles are so important to me. There are key differences between our team members, which is why we work so well together 🙂 #balance

  • Jeni Craswell

    February 19, 2014

    I love this and I agree with you. Those are important traits of employees in a start-up. I think some can move well from a large company into a start-up but they need up-front information about what they are walking into – some will thrive, others just prefer the relative safety of a large, established company.
    I think the one thing you don’t mention (because this isn’t your focus) is the very necessary different of leaders of start-ups. In order for employees to be successful, a start-up leader needs to communicate well with his or her team. Give direction in terms of goals and desired outcomes and then trust the employee to figure out how to get there in the best way possible. I have seen leaders of start-ups want to control everything, which inevitably fails, I have also seen leaders give too little attention and communication to their team which also isn’t helpful. There is a fine line wherein between being available, a mentor to your team and communicating what’s happening and what’s needed provides a path to success! (Oh and a great product…but that’s for another post!) You model this beautifully Peter! Hence the reason you are no longer a start-up! Bravo!

    • Jeni Craswell

      February 19, 2014

      OH drat, wish there was an edit tool…please forgive the typos and grammatical errors, working too quickly tonight!

  • Anne-Marie

    March 3, 2014

    Everything in here is genius and resonates so much with me. And yes, the person that really thrived in a big company is not going to love the lack of process at a start up and they sure won’t like the lack of budget! =)
    This phrase is also so beautifully written:
    “Focus on outcomes, not process. You only create process when you are successfully getting specific outcomes, otherwise, you’re just creating speed bumps.”
    It’s ridiculously true and when people complain to me that our small business doesn’t have all our procedures documented, I now have a new way to tell them that. =) Thanks for the genius turn of phrase.

Post a Comment