The Startup: Why Build the Extra Plumbing if You’re Going to Sell?

Jack Hawley, one of the smartest OD people I’ve ever known, once shared the Native American saying that “to travel fast Equipment, cables and piping as found inside of a modern industryou have to travel light.”

It applies to people (whether it’s actual luggage or their own personal baggage) but it also applies to startups and any other organizations.

The fact is that it’s hard to be nimble when you’re big, or small with lots of extra stuff that you’re carrying around.

For startups that stuff is usually well-intentioned (detailed new hire procedures, customer service protocols, coding documentation, etc.). Add things like FDA compliance for biotech/pharma startups or ISO 9000 requirements for selling to certain business customers and all of a sudden a chunk of your work is in documentation, policies and procedures, not building, selling or billing.

No one ever bought  a company because they had good documentation or good processes. People buy or invest in companies because they have think they have a great product or service.

For startups that have an eye on selling quickly (ShopLogic‘s sale to BloomReach comes to mind but it could be any early stage acquisition) , keeping the policies and procedures and other types of infrastructure to a minimum is key if you want to stay nimble: every moment spent on infrastructure that doesn’t move you forward is potentially a minute not spent on moving your product or service along.

And if your plan is build and grow? Add infrastructure carefully and keep it to what you need, not what you can’t leverage.

It can help to plan ahead, laying out some well-designed blueprint that you can use if you grow beyond your dreams (and fears). I’ve worked with more than one startup that went public (think Sarbannes-Oxley and related SEC infrastructure requirements)  after being adamant they would never take that step.

After all, adding plumbing after you’ve built a house (or organization) is painful.

But carrying around the extra weight (and cost) if you’re never going to use is deadly if your goal is to move fast and move lean.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.