• Entrepreneurs pay incredible attention to detail during the start-up phase. Every issue, every decision, every challenge – every single step seems critical.
  • Then with time and success the level of focus tends to change: Steady cash flow, a solid customer base, and a reasonably secure position in the marketplace naturally creates a shift in focus and attention.
  • That shift in focus from short-term to longer-term can be a good thing… unless in the process your business starts to drift away from what made you successful in the first place.

Business Startups

Here are ways to maintain that sense of excitement, engagement, and mission:

1. Keep valuing accomplishment more than experience.

A sales rep shouldn’t be highly regarded simply because he has ten years of experience. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how long you’ve done what you do. Years of service doesn’t guarantee performance. He could be a mediocre sales rep.

The only thing that matters is what people do – right now. What you’ve done is interesting and builds your reputation, but your true value – right now – lies in the code you release, sales you close and customers you delight.

If you describe your employees or your business in terms of years of service or past laurels, you’ve forgotten that the only thing that matters to your customers is the value you provideright now.

You can recruit on potential, but reward and recognize based on accomplishments, not experience.

2. Never let meetings be an end to themselves.

When you started out you didn’t have “meetings.” You gathered employees together to share exciting news, you stopped by someone’s desk (or just leaned over) to ask for input, you pulled together key people to solve a problem… but you didn’t schedule meetings. Spending time on a meeting was a luxury you couldn’t afford.

Now you might meet regularly just because that’s what “successful” companies do. (Sometimes you might even meet just to decide if you need to have more meetings.)

[Ahem, I thought that would never happen at HubSpot, but I’ve had a couple of those]

Any meeting that does not result in decisions, action items, and clear accountability for producing results isn’t a meeting; it’s a social event — and not a particularly fun one at that. Get back to holding as few formal meetings as possible and make absolutely sure the few you do hold result in tangible, measurable outcomes.

Otherwise, stick to getting things done. Everyone will be happier. Few people love meetings (and be worried about those people), but everyone loves to get things done.

3. Help the team work when and where they need to

Once there weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. Now — there still aren’t enough hours in the day.

Growing a company requires tremendous effort. The best way to get employees to expend this effort is to a) have a mission that is worth pursuing and b) provide flexibility and freedom. (We talk about this in our culture code deck).

If you feel like you’re losing your edge on this front, restore focus on projects and initiatives everyone can rally around – and have fun accomplishing. Good companies create a sense of mission. Great companies sustain it.

4. Focus on results more than interpersonal skills.

Remember the software engineer who was awkward in groups… but almost single-handedly built your first real application? Or the customer support rep that was exceptional at delighting customers, but didn’t really like to hang out and have a beer afterwards?

Early on you could only afford to care about results so you didn’t care about quirks. As you grow, you might sometimes worry more about how individuals “get along” than about how they perform. That’s usually a mistake. Valuing culture fit does not mean an intolerance for people that are different or “quirky”. It’s about making sure your values are aligned — and that you can have mutual respect and a maniacal focus on the customer. The rest, in most shapes and form is politics — or wose, corrosive discrimination.

Smart companies manage through individual differences and find ways to let awesome people, quirks and all, continue to be awesome. (It’s okay to treat people differently, as long as you treat everyone fairly.)

5. Make sure revenue upswings don’t change core beliefs.

Early on you tracked every dollar spent. It was easy since you had very few dollars to keep track of. You turned out lights, turned down the heat, and didn’t throw lavish parties… you worried about every expense. You were scrappy.

Now your financial focus has shifted over a few zeros and you only worry about hundreds or thousands of dollars… but if a dollar was worth saving when you had very few, isn’t a dollar still worth saving when you have a lot?

Lights left on are always a waste. Heat left turned up is always a waste. Just because you have it doesn’t mean you should spend it. When leaders lose focus on spending so do employees – often to an even greater degree.

But don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish: Judge every expense by its benefit. Lights left on benefit no one, but free books make your employees a little smarter and a little happier. That’s a definite benefit.

Don’t simply cut expenses; cut expenses that don’t make a difference, and put that money where it really counts: On helping your employees – and by extension your company – reach their full potential.

6. Give new ideas a chance.

When the day-to-day feels overwhelming it seems impossible to add new items to an already crowded plate… but a company that stays what it is today will not be in business next year.

If you don’t have time to try something new, you’re doing something wrong. Prune a few dead projects and plant new ones.

Trying new things is fun – and keeps your company “young” — and you know, alive.

7. Keep thinking of “customer” as individual, not aggregate.

When you first release a product you know your customers because you only have a few. InHubSpot‘s case, in our early months, we had so few customers, they all fit in a spreadsheet, and we used to have a weekly meeting and talk about every individual one. It’s easy to understand their needs, feel their pains… it’s easy to connect the product with the end user in a meaningful and insightful way.

Now you have hundreds or thousands of customers. Now it’s easy to think of them as a collective mass but the fact remains that behind every sale is a person. Your job is to serve and delight that person – not some nameless, faceless collective “customer.”

Never think of your customers in aggregate; no matter how large your customer base, it’s still made up of individual people whose needs must be met and expectations exceeded. And, if you need help with this concept (as I sometimes do), the best thing to do is to meet these individual customers face-to-face.

Speaking of customers…

8. Remember why you love your customers.

Sometimes you might say, “People just don’t get it.” If that’s the case, potential and current customers don’t get it because you haven’t described your services well enough. You haven’t shown how you provide real value.

They’re not getting it because you’re not effectively giving it.

Customers are the lifeblood of your business. If they can do what you provide on their own, they don’t need you.

Customers are your best friends; without them, you don’t have a business.

9. Stay focused on what you should do, not on what you need.

Early on you solved problems and overcame obstacles through ingenuity, creativity, and effort.

Now you might throw money at problems – even problems that don’t exist. Now you might spend money on “easier,” even though easier is not always better or more productive. Now you might waste resources by creating positions and functional roles instead of finding the right resources to get things done. “You know, we have five engineers now… we should hire a VP of Engineering.”)

Maybe… but probably not: What you always should do is find ways to get important things done.

In the end that’s all you ever really need.

So, what do you think? Any other tips for keeping that early magic even as you grow and scale?


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