With India being world’s 3rd largest start up base today with more than 4700 start ups and counting, chances are by now either you or someone you know have a start-up (or dream of having one) or work in one. But not all of them succeed. Some of them get out of the game even before they reach the funding race and some of them grow by leaps and bounds. So, what makes these start-ups succeed or fail? That’s exactly what we are NOT going to talk about in this article. Because it’s never just one thing. There are n number of reasons why a business would fail or succeed. What we are going to talk about is how a start-up can make itself “fit and healthy” to fight the battle.
The backbone of any start-up is undeniably it’s employees. Half the battle is won by hiring the right employees. Hiring an employee for a start-up is substantially different from hiring an employee for an established organization.
A start up is all that it’s employees make of it. Hiring employees carefully and then keeping them motivated is the key. I know I am making a generic statement here but I honestly think start-ups (especially the unfunded ones) are not a place for someone who has huge financial responsibilities of feeding a family. Who have to pay for their children’s education or parent’s health.
Start-ups do not guarantee job security. They cannot. Their whole existence isn’t secured. They do not know for sure if they are going to be in the business next year. Such people should themselves choose not to work in a start-up unless constant income is guaranteed. I have friends who disagree with this but that's just my opinion.
Start-ups are the place for people with little or no financial responsibility. It is a place for people who are willing to take the risk to help create something new from scratch. It is a place for passionate, self-motivated, challenge-lovers and risk takers. People who are willing to give in extra and willing to take criticism in a constructive way for the greater good.
People who have good moral character and positive work ethics. When hiring people to work in a start-up these are the qualities that should be looked for along with required competence. This slow hiring may help in keeping away from the fast firing. No company wants to be known for it’s "Hire and Fire" culture.
After the hiring comes the process of getting the desired results from the hired employees. One might think that after hiring passionate, self-motivated employees their job is done. Now it’s employee’s responsibility to stay motivated.
Wrong. If that was true the HR people would be jobless. This is where Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory comes in. Maslow ’s pyramid of needs is as relevant in a start-up as in an established organization. All employees need to be motivated by satisfying their needs. It’s the responsibility of the employers to see to it that most, if not all the needs of the employees are met.
This is how great leaders retain their star employees and get the desired results out of them. Positive actions like praise, incentives, appraisals work far better than negative criticism and threats. As the old saying goes "Fear is a bad motivator." All the negativity will only lead employees to bad mouth about the company.
It’s very important to communicate with them time to time and hear their grievances and feedback. It’s the employer’s responsibility to create and nurture an environment where employees can share their ideas and give honest feedback. In big established organisations communication becomes difficult but in start-ups communication should never be a problem. If it is, it’s the company’s loss.
The employees should have respect for the company. Especially, the representatives of the company in the market. Employees who actually meet the clients and are responsible for delivering the services. Who are the face of the company. How would they make clients like the company when they don’t like it themselves? It’s extremely important for the company’s expansion and survival to get good reviews from the clients. That is only possible if they are getting good and timely services. There is no replacement for that.
Often starts ups amidst big tie ups and achieving targets forget to do the most basic work. They forget to concentrate on providing good service. Good service means good reviews and good reviews means more business. If in the hoard of getting awards, big names and more clients you don’t pay attention on the ground level, all efforts might go down the drain in the long run.
Think of it this way. You want to decorate your house to attract more visitors. You buy expensive furniture, vases, paintings, antiques and other expensive and classy decorative items. But you forget to pay attention to the most basic thing. You forget to clean your house. The basic work of sweeping and dusting. Your house will be covered with dust. So will your expensive decorative items. It might even stink. Who would want to come to such house?
People who are responsible for this work will not put their heart and soul in their work, they will not go out of their way to save the company’s name from getting maligned If they don’t feel respected by the company. If they think their needs are not getting fulfilled by the company. “It’s not my problem” attitude by them is only going to harm the company.
Start-ups also face mass resignation problem which again isn’t a good indicative of it’s work culture. One way, start-ups can stop this is by clear communication and understanding of the work culture of start-ups. Some people resign because they are not cut out to work in a start-up. They are unaware of the dynamics of working in one. Start-ups are fundamentally different from established organisation and they should maintain that until they reach there.
A person who is accustomed to only working in an established organization or who has expectations that of an established organisation may find it difficult to cope in an ever changing, dynamic, throbbing environment of a start-up. They may resign out of frustration and confusion. Even with the start-up boom we cannot just assume that a new employee must be aware of it. It’s the start up’s responsibility to acquaint the new employees with the work culture since the beginning.
However, even after trying it’s best there will come a time when start-ups will have to let people go. The misfits, the under-performers, the confused and the no longer needed. Again, as explained above if starts ups are just communicative of the dynamics, the employees which needs to be fired will understand. They will understand that the company needs to invest it’s time and money on someone who is able to deliver the results needed. Even star employees will understand that the company needs to change it’s strategy and their services are no longer needed.
Firing or letting people go is never easy for the founders and they might never get used to it. But such clear communication and understanding at least makes sure that they part on good terms. Which is very important in today’s overtly connected world. Recent example of swiggy’s former employees’ tell-all blog post only reinforces it. Even though Swiggy’s CEO wrote another explanatory blog and cleared that it wasn’t written by their employees. The whole episode cleared what damage a resentful employee can cause.
With the right employees and right environment a start up is fit to fight the battle. All of it is nothing new and nothing that hasn't been said before. It's just facing everyday challenges people forget about how important it is and keep trying to find where the problem lies.
I am not saying start-ups should start to prioritize taking care of employees’ feelings but we cannot deny that in the end employees are the ones who make or break a start-up. A leaders’ job is to give them a greater reason to work for than just money or fear of losing their jobs.
The socialist in me have always found vague similarities in today's start-up scene and monarchy shown in Game of thrones and have managed to crack a few relevant jokes with my friend.
So Enclosing I'd like to quote Tyrion Lannister here, (Tyrion to The mother of dragons)
“But my sister’s armies fight for her out of fear. The Unsullied will be fighting for something greater. They will be fighting for freedom and the person who gave it to them. They will be fighting for you. That is why they will triumph.”