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Prioritizing as Your Start-Up Scales

Scaling Team
Prioritization
Mission / Vision / Charter

21 July, 2021

Trey Tacon, Senior Director of Engineering at TeamSnap, knows that making the right moves early on can mean the difference between failure and building something that changes the world.

Problem

Prioritizing work in a start-up can be a really thorny topic. It depends on which stage of funding you’re in.

I have plenty of experience working with small start-ups that end up hitting it big. I love to see that development. What really interested me was that five to fifty person segment of growth. I really wanted to understand what those transition points looked like. When you’re at the seed-company level, you’re really just throwing things up against the wall, which is fine. It becomes a matter of breadth versus depth, and, at that point, many will be more focused on breadth.

When you find yourself at this intersection, you’re trying to figure certain things out, things like domain and the features that you would like to deliver. Once you have those nailed down, then, the real work can begin. Let’s really find these customers. You delve deeper, but you’re not all the way in yet.

Actions taken

The series B transition is the one that’s really fascinating. If a company can make that leap, things will get pretty interesting. That’s where a lot of founders lose themselves. You start from series A, having a great idea, to this next size, series B. You start thinking about how to really nail down the way that you operate and how to optimize your revenue pipeline, your means of growing your team, company, and product.

Everybody goes from wearing all of these different hats to only a few. You need to be very clear about what you care about and what you’re actually doing. What are we not doing that we should be? That’s the really important part that people often just forget about. I try to be very clear on those things.

Prioritization issues come from two areas: communication and disagreement. Everybody in the company has different needs and priorities, and these can often be misaligned with one another. This leads to disagreement. It can be difficult to make progress without some way of resolving these things. You have to disagree and commit. Ultimately, somebody has to make the final decision.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to create this autocratic environment where only one person is making all of the decisions for everybody; there has to be some sort of consensus. Once you work through these two issues, however, now, the problem has gone from being something impossible to solve to something that can be understood and prioritized accordingly.

That’s the part that’s fun for me. I try to dial into the higher goals of the company. What are we focused on? Let’s re-approach that topic of focus. At a past company, I will be honest: we spent a lot of time waffling on our product. There was a lot of lateral movement, which is a pattern that I think all leaders should be wary of. Lateral movement means that you’re not moving forward. That’s your job as a leader. You have to be making progress and not simply doing “work”.

Lessons learned

  • For us, it was really important to hone in on net revenue retention as our top-level priority. Here is our number. That’s the goal. If something does not tie into this, then we do not do it, plain and simple. Then, each department can figure out how they will contribute to this objective.
  • If a team has not invested in data, moving toward this style of working might be difficult. You really just have to do it; it’s better to do it sooner rather than later. You will be at this impasse otherwise. Data will help you decide which services and parts of the business are more important than others, allowing you to narrow your focus and to forecast accordingly.
  • When you’re in a start-up, you really can’t just make a six-month plan. If you want to, I wish you the best. What you really should be doing, however, is instead try to put inertia behind ideas that you feel strongly about. Let’s make some progress before moving on.

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