- by Mikko Välimäki
To begin, every startup has a well-known challenge: to find a product-market fit and scale it up.
Unless you are Steve Jobs, you most likely won’t get it right when you come out of the gate with your new product or service. When that happens, you very quickly and effectively need to learn how to make it work. Part of your success will be in making sure you have talented people to help you get the job done – and keeping them.
Startups are like team sports. The best teams are built on the idea of “Strength in Numbers.” You’ll have to forgive me for that reference to the NBA team, the Golden State Warriors. I’m a big fan of basketball. But getting back to the topic at hand: here’s a thing or two I can share when it comes to building an all-star team of innovators.
I believe the most effective way to organize a company from the get-go – if organizing is even the right word here – is to design it with as much self-learning as possible. In Tuxera’s case, we’ve grown from a startup with just a handful of people to a 70-person team. During our growth and into today, we have spent next to nothing on consultants.
Your people don’t learn and grow when information is sucked away by outsiders, whose only purpose is to process the information, then sell it back to you wholesale. Information should be collected, processed, and decisions made right there where your team meets with the customers, and where your team builds the products.
I don’t believe that a successful company needs what you call “middle men.” As a matter of fact, a culture of self-learning is blocked by middle men. If your people have to go to you or some manager time and again to get things done, you waste valuable time and lose information. What’s more, individual creativity and motivation suffer – and in turn, innovation suffers.
This organizational model, the so-called “flat organization,” isn’t novel. But I feel it’s important in attracting and keeping the most talented people. For sure, there must be somebody who can steer the purpose and vision from within the whole team and get everyone on board. However, that process cannot be based on professional status or top-down supremacy.
You don’t organize your company around control, hierarchy, or even one very charismatic leader. You do it around an idea or purpose. Your team members are smart – they must buy in to the company vision and direction on their own. I feel this is the best way to keep everyone motivated and creative. From my experience, no reward opens the floodgates to innovation quite like giving your team the freedom to “just do it.”
Want to learn more about culture in a high-tech company? Check out What’s a “company week” and why it’s important.