Culture Vs. Competence - Startup Style

Entrepreneurs often write to me; through mails, through messages, through Facebook & LinkedIn. They ask me, "what happened?", after I blog about certain things. If I write about my failures, they ask me to write about how I overcame my debts. If I write about my startup story, they ask me to write about where I go from here. If I write about my co-founding journey, they want me to share, how I overcome arguments. Most of the time I speak to my readers, build a relationship with them and they go on to become some of my closest mentee, friend, associate and even a member. But something I really love is, when the same people just call me at odd time and ask me about the challenge I am going through at that very moment (we are all entrepreneurs, we accept and understand that challenges are a part of our journey at all times). I share the same with them. Yes, I do share every challenge I am going through at that very time as an entrepreneur. I do this because I know that what I share can help them overcome challenges they may be facing or prepare them for what is coming. When I share my on-going challenge, sometimes, its so close to them that they insist I write about it. Today's blog is a result of one such conversation with a dear entrepreneur / member of Startups Club.  

Some Background

For the sake of getting more specific and making this a productive read for you, I would just like to inform you - this is specific to early stage startup, which is funded and profitable. A startup with 2 founders and a team of 15+ full time team and 15+ interns. If you are not a new here, you already know, Startups Club Services Pvt. Ltd. is a 2 year old funded startup and it is our team that I am talking about. I am one of the Founders along with Vivek Srinivasan. So, let me get the facts out, the team was in place from January 2017. Prior to that, we founders were the only ones working in a bootstrapped approach even after getting funded. So, our champions of my blog this time are our 8 month old team, rather call it, the 8 month old floating team. You will understand in the next few minutes, why I call them, the floating team... When a startup founder sets out to get a team and if they are funded and intelligent, they will still play smart with money and not throw it around lavishly and that is exactly what we did, we played smart. We were not ready to flush money into the system to get the most experienced but rather, as a startup community, we were setting examples for our members. So we had to be smart, we had to be a role model. We took interns, freshers, the go-getters, the unclear ones, the fun filled ones, the ones who would go every mile not because they need the money but because they love what they were doing. Within the first quarter, we were the talk of the community. Every member loved our team. Every person who touched us, were nothing but awed by the energy, the madness, the passion and the drive which came with this team. There was nothing in this world they would not or could not do. Spend entire nights to get work done, but yes, they wanted beers to go with it. Our numbers showed, they were rocking and the founders could not have asked for anything better. Nothing mattered, the numbers were achieved, there were loads of hugs, laughter, fun & parties. The world just seemed perfect. Fact was, it just SEEMED perfect.  

A Perfect Startup Culture

The second quarter started and having achieved some great numbers in Q1, we were on cloud 9. But as founders, we knew, getting some amazing numbers for the first few months was not the goal for us. Keeping the growth going up at a good pace was the bigger picture. Did we stop to pass that message to this super dynamic team? A very big question, we founders don't often ask ourselves when we take a new team. We learnt it the hard way, truly the hard way. Couple of months into Q2, when it was just not about getting some numbers, it was about beating yourself over what you had achieved, things got tough. As the reporting became more aggressive, the parties became fewer, the weaker ones starting dropping out. Just as, they did not need any reason to join us in the first place, they did not need any reason to leave as well. There was this new term now suddenly popping up in every session with the team - Competence. Trust me when I write this, this is one term, which does not go well with the 'Culture' animals. If I say, there is an overnight solution for this Culture Vs. Competence problem for you, I would be lying to you. It is a journey, it is one day at a time, it is small baby steps towards finding your very own super working formula for this. We are, as you read this, figuring our formula, one step at a time, one day at a time, one team member at a time. Is it tough? it is very tough, especially for someone like me, who is a people's person. It's heart-ache, it's trust breach, it's hurt and I am not making this dramatic here. At times, in the middle of the night, I feel like running up to the terrace and screaming out till my guts fall out, so that I don't feel the pain of loosing people. I really want to do that! Founders are humans too, we are not machines and it is important to be a human to build a startup. Your startup is your baby, your dream, your hope and your vision and madness and if you are not human, you will never achieve the goals  you have for your startup. A company which is the world's next unicorn that grows, breathes and lives in every ones lives. There will come a day, when it would not need you at all, as a founder, but then that is what it is - You take it to that level and let it fly high. Startups Club will be that link to all entrepreneurs across the world and we founders are not stopping till it become that. So what if we face anything and every thing now. Scream out if you have to, loose people if you have to, keep pushing, keep moving and keep making.  

The Choice

If you think I know what you need to choose - Culture or Competence, I don't know about what would suit you best. I just know that for me, as an entrepreneur, if it was not for that early focus on culture, that madness and this challenge, I would not have been the entrepreneur / founder I am today. I am more stronger and more focused today. I faulted and I learnt but my lesson now, as I write this - Culture and energy will happen but it does not have to happen from Day One. The people joining the startup must join for the right reasons - The need to excel; loyalty to the startup, not an individual and a mindset to achieve their targets come what may. We have set some company rules, some hard-set induction program and culture fit will be observed only after competence is proven. Only after the probation period is completed, we start to build the team member for our startup. Am I sure this will work, God knows I don't. But will we try our best to make it work, you bet we will! We will not give up till we figure this thing, our own super successful formula to make this mix work. As founders, here is the Million Dollar lesson for all you founders. All through this time, there was one thing, which we founders never gave up, compromised or got distracted from - Whatever the issue, the company / startup never stopped delivering value to its members or making money - not for a single day. Even the day when there was a group walk out, we achieved the maximum sales - especially that day. Even when there were back to back meetings to understand why team members had issues, even if the two founders, Vivek and I had massive difference of thoughts. We stood together, there was nothing and no one who could ever come between us or make us think differently. As a startup, finding your culture fit, your competence levels, your leadership teams, your people's formula is important. Above all comes the strong trust and straight headed founders of the startup. You have that figured out, nothing will ever touch your startup and slow its growth.  


Finally, some quick lessons I learnt from this challenge of the season for my startup;
  1. Get people who have strong reasons to achieve things in life, people with clarity of goals in life.
  2. Don't ever panic. Remember, as founders, you're doing everything yourself and you're having things in control. When new team members come, control is lost to a certain extent, so things get screwed up - its got to. They cannot be you. So you don't panic and stay focussed on your bigger picture, because when it does screw up, you are anyway there to set it straight.
  3. Culture or Competence - Its very simple - Don't compromise on competence, you can adjust your Culture over time. It is not necessary everyone is super happy and super cool. As long as they are competent, you can figure the other things out.
  4. The moment you take a team, don't let the ball drop completely from your hands. As founders, remember, a startup is about delivering value and making money. Even if you let go of things, be on high alerts, you are the founder, you must be in a position to be blind-folded and still run your business, its after all your game. So, come what may, the SHOW MUST GO ON...
  5. Last but not the least, can you be assured that this challenge will not face you? No. You can read as much as you want, research on human psychology, get mentored or tutored; You have to jump in and hit the waves and take that first stroke forward. So, be ready, either you have already faced this all or you are about to..
You know how to reach me if you wanna talk on this or leave a comment, I will surely reach out to you...