Even Startups Need the Right Tool for the Right Job

Recently, we were doing a trail run at a state park. We tend to run for a reasonable amount of time. That means that we need to carry some sort of liquids to hydrate. For years, we’ve used a Fuel Belt to carry a couple of 8-ounce bottles we can sip from. But, we recently switched to a Nathan hydration pack. During my first run, I realized how much more pleasant and faster my run was with the new hydration pack. How can such a simple change have a meaningful impact on my run?

Well, the two hydration options really have different purposes. We got the belts when we were mostly running on streets. But when we moved to trails, the bottles topple out when you run down even little hills. When this happens, and it happens a lot, you have to stop, pick the bottle up, clean the dirt off the top, and then be prepared to get some grit in your mouth anyway. It’s manageable, but it takes time. Plus, no one likes dirt with their drink. The pack is just better for the trails – that’s where it was designed to be used.

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Startups evolve over time. What works early on for them probably does not work in the long-term. Let’s take the simplest case – free marketing tools. Early on, you might be able to get by with a free Facebook page. But eventually, you need a website with some functionality – subscriber capture, maybe a blog, and maybe even an online store. Free Mailchimp or another freemium email software can get you pretty far. But then, you have a database of customers and complex email needs. You need to start lead nurturing. So you will have to spend money to get better tools. Eventually, scaling startups have an entire marketing stack (a set of marketing software tools that layer on each other) – email, landing pages, CRM, marketing automation, sales automation, PR, and maybe even some AI-based social advertising optimization. 

The same happens with people. Ben Horowitz calls this “management debt.” A technical founder might not be the best person to lead a 20+ people organization as CEO. And the CEO who leads a 20+ people company might not be the best person to lead a 100+ people company. You have to plan to reassess the match between CEO and the tasks at hand across time. 

At first, it makes sense for the founding team to do the selling. It keeps them close to the customer so they can get feedback, live and in person. At this point, sales is still a discovery process - you are still looking for product/market fit. But, that’s not scalable and the founders have more important jobs (like securing funding and making strategic hires) as the startup grows. Warning – it’s also a problem if the founding team members are the only ones who can close sales. In order to scale, they have to be able to transition closing customer sales to a sales team. 

 So, recognize this evolution in advance. If you still haven’t hired anyone to help you, revisit our post on when to hire an employee. If you’ve got a team, then be prepared to ask: Do we have the right people in the right job roles? What am I doing today that I cannot do in the future? And, how can I transition this effectively? It’s a good problem to have because it means you are growing. Be ready to make changes to grow even faster! And, don’t do a trail run with a 32-ounce Yeti. It’s great for keeping drinks cool, but not a good hydration system for the trails…