If You're Running a Startup, Spring Is a Year-Round Season Take a cue from farmers to make sure your startup stays healthy and growing.
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Spring signals the infusion of new life, renewal, growth and transformation. For farmers, this season is a critical time -- it's when they lay the groundwork for the year ahead. For startups, spring can feel perpetual. Especially in their early stages, startups are iterating and accelerating constantly.
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The pressure to be agile and rapidly scale has led some startups down the slippery slope of overpromising and under-delivering. But, startups can take a methodical, strategic approach and still move quickly. Following a similar methodology to the agricultural process will help lay the groundwork for startups in the year ahead. These four farming practices can guide startups' growth:
Planning for the season
Before planting, farmers first assess the soil. This is an important stage of the agricultural process because it's when farmers determine which crop will thrive in the given environment. Understanding the weather conditions, soil nutrition, demand and soil type are key to determining the best seeds for planting.
Similarly, startups must first assess the efficacy of their idea before launching it into the market. According to CB Insights, 42 percent of failed startups list "no market need" as a reason for their collapse. Investing early in research and development ensures there is a viable market for the product and can help determine a strategic road map.
It will also help a growing startup understand if an idea is ready to launch or if adjustments are needed. By participating in conversations with customers and potential users, startups will receive direct feedback on what works well, what doesn't and what can be improved.
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Preparing the soil
After farmers have determined which crop has the most potential for growth, it's time to cultivate the right environment. Cultivation involves creating conditions that are optimal for seeds to germinate in. There is a lot of work involved in this phase and it's often difficult to understand just how necessary it is until the seeds begin to grow. In a startup, this step requires building a culture for an idea to take root and grow.
Oftentimes teams within a startup are small, requiring all hands on deck. Unlike more established businesses, regular collaboration between senior leadership and junior team members is the norm.
At Shiftgig, we host bi-weekly brainstorm sessions where everyone is invited to share and brainstorm solutions for different issues. In these sessions, ideas are discussed among C-level, manager and entry-level employees alike. As a result, we have created a culture of trust and transparency where every employee is empowered to be innovative and has the freedom to fail.
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The importance of pruning
As crops grow, so do undesirable weeds. Pruning this unwanted growth ensures the soil's nutrients go to the crops a farmer wants to harvest.
In a growing startup, ideas and opportunities are constantly emerging but it's vital to remain focused on the company's vision. Don't follow the shiny objects that distract from the task at hand. Weed out the ideas that steer the company away from its core and slow down growth. Focus all of the company's efforts on the ideas that will positively impact and accelerate the business.
For example, Uber has branched out beyond its original business plan with products like UberEats and UberRush. While UberEats is now the most profitable part of Uber, UberRush has struggled to establish itself and will shutter in June. This decision allows Uber to invest resources into the parts of the business that are going well.
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Nurturing the ecosystem
A farmer can plant many seeds but without the right care, crops will never grow. Constant cultivation, fertilization and irrigation are needed to nurture growth. In the fast-paced world of a startup, relationships, too, need constant nurturing. Customers, investors, partners and internal employees are a startup's biggest assets.
On the other hand, in the wrong environment, factors such as leadership changes, emerging competitors or losing a deal can have a cascading effect, negatively influencing company morale and even impacting revenue. Unpredictable factors like weather force farmers to be more adaptable. Startups, too, should establish and embrace an environment where change is expected but not disruptive to growth.
When Shiftgig experienced a C-suite leadership change, our first priority was making sure our employees, customers and investors understood the reason for the change and the impact it would have on the business. This communication further established trust and transparency with this vital group of people.
To continue getting the right crop, farmers must always be investing in it. Growing startups looking to accelerate quickly, need to do the same.
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Measuring crop growth
As seasons change, farmers begin to determine success. It allows them to understand if the predicted weather pattern, the chosen seeds and the amount of land was accurate and if adjustments need to be made for the next season.
With this in mind, startups too need to set realistic expectations for growth from the outset.
Goals should not be static and instead dynamically reflect the growth stage. What was important to measure initially might will not be valuable down the road.
As Shiftgig grew, we realized the importance of altering our KPIs to be measurable across every department. Our goals today not only reflect the overall performance of our business but they also give each employee a chance to make a direct impact on the bottom line.
As summer starts, so does the sense of complacency. This complacency is dangerous to any business, especially startups. The spring urgency of working sunup to sundown to nurture delicate crops diminishes. Startups who embrace a perpetual spring will have constant momentum to experience strategic growth.