Culture and Management: What Works for a Startup?



According to Bijan Sabet:

It’s seductive to convince yourself in the early days that all we need to do is keep our culture and hire more people and assume productivity goes up. Hiring without great management can be a full-blown nightmare. 

A great culture and enthusiastic, smart people are a strong foundation for growing a company. Those are necessary ingredients, but you still have to make those ingredients come together somehow into something that hopefully is greater than the sum of its parts. That is what structure provides, and without it, things quickly unwind into a morass of confusion, chaos and a revolving door of talent. I have seen first hand this happen at several early startups.

This is a bit of truth that many first-time founders miss. The thought of adding processes, procedures and the dreaded “management” seems like a step back for folks intent on avoiding the pitfalls of the “big, soulless company.” There are plenty of companies that are even experimenting with “no management” structures. The reality though is that even those situations involve management, but it ends up being management under the guise of a social construct that is no different in substance than what we have today. What ultimately happens is that the founders end up making all the decisions, which seems to contradict the whole purpose of giving employees the freedom to decide and create at will. I am still bullish on innovations on organizational structures, but it is still early days.

In the meantime, your startup probably does not have the capacity to handle such experiments in human behavior. If you are growing and want to maintain some semblance of order to your growth, you will need to have some organization in place. That means ensuring that work is guided towards goals, that quality is maintained and that the right things are being done for the right reasons. So let’s not fear the “M” word, but use it in a way that does not suck the energy from your team or stifle innovation.

This article was originally published on Strong Opinions, a blog by Birch Ventures for the NYC tech startup community.

Image Credit: CC by Loozrboy

About the author: Mark Birch

Mark is an early stage technology investor and entrepreneur based in NYC. Through Birch Ventures, he works with a portfolio of early stage B2B SaaS technology startups providing both capital and guidance in the areas of marketing, sales, strategic planning and funding.

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