Our most recent episode of the “In Systems We Trust” podcast featured Trae Nickleson, an experienced startup marketing and tech consultant. We chatted about how he helps startups establish a ground base for their operations, create systems that will promote traction, and set goals for optimal growth. First, let’s define how startups differ from other organizations.
How are startups different from other organizations?
Startups operate at a different level than larger businesses. Being so growth-heavy, focusing on becoming bigger, startup employees are often working long hours and wearing multiple hats. Because of this, most of the work done with startups is dealing directly with the founder.
This is one reason Nickleson says he decided to work with startups, he explains that he saw the need for good systems and processes within the industry. In order for them to attract good funding and high-powered venture capitalist firms, startups have to be operating as seamlessly as possible. That’s where systems and processes come into play. Cue the smile across our faces.
But where do startups even begin?
What’s the most important thing a startup needs to implement?
As any startup founder will tell you, there’s a lot of heavy lifting that goes on behind the scenes. Your systems and processes, when implemented early on will help ease the burden.
Nickleson has seen many founders approach him without realizing they have a problem, but generally fall into two categories. They are either a) a first-time founder who needs a bit of extra work, or b) an ex-tech employee (like Google or Facebook) that knows exactly where they want to go. No matter who the founder is, Nickleson’s first question is the same. “Do you have systems in place for success?”
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but you do need to solve the problems. If these startups want to become the next LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google, they have to establish systems early on.
How to Generate Traction In A Startup
One of the biggest things that Trae Nickleson helps startups with is traction: the actual movement needed to get somewhere. It doesn’t just happen with the snap of your fingers, but rather it is a series of small steps towards a big vision.
In a startup, this can feel overwhelming.
Breaking down your big vision into smaller, actionable steps or objectives into what can be achieved today, next week, 6 months, or a year from now gives you the roadmap to achieving your dream.
Nickleson notes this is a simple process in theory but often breaks down if the steps and processes aren’t written down and tracked. In a startup, the goal is often around getting funding, but the potential investors need to see that the company is on its way to something great. He says, “Investors have to see the train moving before becoming interested.” So how does Nickleson at Grip help people do this?
Set Up Goals and OKRs
Step one in Nickleson’s process is to have potential startup clients fill out an intake form to set a starting point for where they are and where they want to go. Determining a startup’s objectives and key results (OKRs) should include a few different types. You should have a large overarching goal, the company’s “true north” that employees are always moving toward. You should also list your specifics, like quarterly goals to reach. Inside these goals, you need measurable objectives. Then, at least once a quarter, go through your OKRs to measure your company traction to make the appropriate changes if needed.
Adopt Systems Early
Most startups make a big mistake early on. They think that if everyone can fit around a table and talk, they must be on the same page. Why would they need OKRs and systems in place to measure what they are doing if they can just talk about it? Most of the time, Nickleson says, they are wrong. Even in times as small as 3 or 4 people, most likely, they aren’t all on the same page.
Nickleson spends a lot of his time convincing people to implement systems early so they don’t get in the way. If you adopt these systems or technologies too late, they become a burden. When you adopt them early, they become a tool and a way of giving direction to a small team.
Make Process a Priority
Nickleson says that adopting systems early is a start, but making the process a priority is even more important. At some point, you’re going to grow fast. You raise the money and now want to ensure that you’re hiring the right people in the right roles. Having your processes in place will keep everything moving forward. With systems as the backbone of your company, everything is held in the right place.
If we’ve learned anything, it’s that if you want a startup to be successful, systems have to be in place. Companies don’t become the next Google by failing to plan. Startups become successful with planning, consulting, and measuring their success.