There Are No LEGO Instructions For Your Startup

February 17, 2014

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.


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