Why do startups move fast and enterprises move slowly?
I recently had a call with an ex-employee of a well known and a well-funded startup that has been around for a few years, let's say it was a household name.
She told me that getting anything done was slow, painful and costing the company growth and even worse, stopping the company quickly capitalising on new opportunities.
She then preceded to say that speed was one of our biggest strategic advantages as an early-stage startup.
I don't disagree.
Over the last 12 months, our startup VEED has moved extremely fast and grown even faster. It has been a lot of fun. Now that our team is getting close to 20 (Yikes :S) I can feel things slowing down a little.
I am somewhat cool with that...
However, I want to try and uncover the exact formula that has allowed startups like ours to move fast so we can continue to do so in the future the bigger we grow. The main questions I would like to answer in this post are:
- What are the advantages of moving fast?
- Can you build an infrastructure to allow your company to move fast?
- How to build and hire a fast team?
- And finally, how to continue moving fast as your company gets bigger?
As this article is all about moving fast, let's get onto the first topic?
What are the advantages of moving fast?
By moving fast you can amplify the speed of learning in your company. The speed of learning is important because this gives the ability to make better-informed decisions on real data. This allows you to validate your ideas and hypothesis quicker.
If you can Build -> Measure -> Learn a product feature in just 1 week instead of 4, you will be 4 times closer to satisfying your customers needs in the same period of time. Simple, of course, but this means your are quicker to market and by building a better product quicker you help the company to start making money on these features faster.
For example, If we added billing to VEED 4 month earlier, our revenue would be double what it is now, that's a big deal and a lot of money.
However, by doing so you are obviously going to have to compromise. You absolutely have to "cut the fat" to see results quicker. This might mean reducing the desired feature set for launch, not having pixel-perfect implementation or handing over ownership to your team.
All the three points above perfectly sum up the first few months of our startup journey as we hacked together VEED. These were our humble scrappy beginnings ❤️
One of my tutors at art school (Rebecca Ross) said something to me that I will never forget. "Perfectionism is a form of procrastination" As many early-stage startup founders come from a product background, it's easy to convince yourself that building polished feature after feature is a good use of your time, however, you might just be heading in the completely wrong direction.
The final strategic advantage for a startup to move fast is that you are able to simply outpace your competition before they have time to react and capture market share.
For example, we could easily assume competitors of ours such as Adobe are working on competing product offerings, however, they are not able to to move as fast as us.
It is crazy! Think about it, a bootstrapped company can move faster than corporate such as Adobe with a $190Bn Market cap!
Why can startups move fast?
Startups are fast.
Big companies are slow.
One common idea is related to network latency. The idea is simple, in a small team, information passing, validation of ideas and decision making can be made quickly as all of these things don't need to go through layers of bureaucracy.
Let's look at an example.
Above we can see that by reducing the number of stakeholders, information can flow quicker and therefore decisions can be made much faster. Amazon believes that 2 pizzas should feed each team. By keeping teams small, cross-functional and agile you can avoid holdups and eat the pizza while it is still hot!
For more on this topic, I recommend reading the The Everything Store - by Brad Stone where he goes into detail how Amazon builds cross-functional teams.
In the early days of VEED the team was just Tim and myself, between us we covered design, product, dev and marketing. Our next two hires Mate & Veljko were also not afraid to step out of their comfort zone and work with new challenges outside their designated roles.
How can you build an infrastructure to allows you to move fast?
Another reason startups can move fast is they don not yet have the same infrastructure to maintain vs their enterprise counterparts. As your company gets bigger, so does your codebase, your user needs, testing surface area and more.
So how do you build an infrastructure that allows you to move fast. The answer is simple, you don't! Here is a good example I recently came across.
Superhuman is a popular email client that has raised over $33M in funding. A few weeks ago I went to update my billing information on the app and saw they were using Stripe's default checkout. Superhuman has the resources to build a custom checkout, however, they opted to use the default option provided by stipe.
I have a lot of respect for this. Superhuman is clearly focusing on building more value into the core reason why the user originally bought the product. Not spending time making a nice checkout process.
As I reflect on this, we have spent way too much time building custom login systems, custom checkouts and marketing automations that could have been spent building a better video editor.
In light of this, we have now moved all of our marking sites to Webflow and all of our marketing automation to Zappier. The idea is to use 3rd party tools / low code / no code wherever you can, so we can focus on building a great video editor. Everything else outside of video editing and our core value proposition is not where we should be spending our time, it is not what we are good at. By doing this you are reducing technical debt, engineering time and allowing your entire team to move faster.
Let's look at building a login system from engineering point of view, as it is a good example. A customer login system requires connecting a mail provider, building password reset, protecting users data, adding the ability to update email and so much more. In addition, we had more than 10 customer service tickers every day with users who were unable to login. Most of the time they simply forgot the password or entered their email wrong. VS opting for passwordless login, we don't need to think about any of the above while also benefiting from incredibly low maintenance.
How to build a fast team?
Just like when putting together Jamaica's first bobsled team, picking candidates that are already fast is a proven way to to make sure you have the DNA for speed. We like to look for side projects, self-initiated work, hunger to learn. We also look for candidates that show the ability to manage their own time well and also have the attitude to do their best work. However, we just don't have enough experience with hiring right now to effectively comment on this.
Fortunately, the one thing we do have a lot of experience in is messing up! We believe that having a no-blame culture helps provide an environment that allows our team to experiment and make mistakes and if we are not making mistakes, we are not taking enough risks. If you had to attempt a backflip without a soft landing, there is little chance that you would attempt it, however knowing fully well that there is a soft landing, there is a good chance you will give it a go.
The idea of a no-blame culture is partly stolen from Creativity, Inc - Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull.
How to continue moving fast as your company gets bigger?
Now we have explored all the main points that I wanted to cover, its time to put together a list of our key learnings for this post to help us to continue to move fast as we get bigger.
Keep teams small & cross-functional. Keep information moving between the teams fast and avoid any outside stakeholders/gatekeepers. You should fully trust your team to do an amazing job, that's why you hired them.
Give your team members the freedom to do their best work. Have a no-blame culture by never pointing the finger and celebrating failure.
Less code = the better! More off-the-shelf products means there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Don't block the team and empower everyone to push work/changes to production fast.
The road ahead
Provide top-line strategies, but provide enough flexibility to go off-piste... Rules are there to be broken! Remember validated learning with quicker feedback loops = faster team!
Final thoughts, there are going to be many things I have missed from this article, and in the spirit of moving fast, if this resonates with readers, we will be back to update it with more info. If you need an online video editing app or an amazing subtitle tool, this is something we can definitely help you out with.