281: How to Use Process to Grow Your Startup
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Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about why startups are allergic to processes and what they can do about it.
A lot of startups have “process allergies” and this can be a hindrance to growth. The thought of building and setting up business processes also adds pressure on founders. However, what they don’t realize is that every business activity is done through a process.
In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about “process allergy”, what it is, why most startups have it, and what founders can do to eliminate it. Listen until the end and get a chance to win a surprise from The Startup Chat!
Time Stamped Show Notes:
- 00:28 – The reason we’re talking about today’s topic.
- 01:01 – What “process allergy” is and why startups have it.
- 02:23 – Hiten talks about what inexperience leads to.
- 03:07 – The general mantra processes.
- 03:59 – What a process really is.
- 05:17 – Why realizing you have a process is a powerful thing.
- 07:21 – The worst thing about creating processes.
- 08:54 – Hiten’s suggestion on how to develop processes.
- 11:17 – Steli talks about how to eliminate “processes allergies”.
- 15:26 – Steli suggests using Process Street and Asana
- Every business has a process even if you don’t think you do.
- Repetition doesn’t happen without process.
- The way you do things is your process.
We want to help you become more process oriented. For the first five listeners who reach out to Steli by email at Steli@close.io we will pay for a business pro plan upgrade at Process St.
Steli: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.
Hiten: And this is Hiten Shah . And today on the startup chat, we’re going to talk about why startups are allergic to process and what you can do about it.
Steli: So the reason why I wanted to talk to you about this today is just in a recent episode, you dropped a Hiten bomb, which was saying that lots of startups has process allergy. They’re allergic to process. And that can be a hindrance to growth. So I made a mental note when you said that to come back to this. And to talk about it a little bit further in detail. So let’s start off the episode with the open ended question. We’ll go deep and deep in detail. What do you mean by process allergy? And why do you think startups have it?
Hiten: Startups are usually started by inexperienced business people. And I don’t mean because of age, I just mean in general. It’s inexperienced business people. Maybe people that worked at companies cool, but they’re just inexperienced at starting a business. They’re inexperienced at thinking through team and structure and even things like how do you grow a business? What are the most important things to do? Even things like how do you raise money? Usually these startups, especially on the tech side are started by people who can build things. And so a lot of times, what I see … And this has been getting better over the years but is that people just get into it accidentally. And they just do whatever they can to get shit done. And so that’s the hustle mentality, the get shit done mentality. And at some point, whatever they’re doing starts breaking. And what I mean by breaking is, you have process whether you think you do or not. And that’s the key statement I would make, which is if you’re getting anything done, you’re building product, you’re getting customers, you’re hiring, there’s a process to it. You’re just not conscious to it if you think you don’t have it. And you probably haven’t written it down. And you don’t follow the same process necessarily every time. So a lot of times I think what happens is, inexperience leads to this idea that I have, that process is not something startups have. They don’t, and it’s because they’re moving so fast, or think they’re moving so fast that they don’t either need it, or don’t think about it. And then a point comes when things just start breaking. Usually the first thing that breaks is hiring. They don’t know how to hire. Well shit, it’s because they just hired their buddies. Right? Literally, that’s how it works. You start with your buddies. You start with your co-founder. You start with people you know. What the heck do you need an interview for? You know these people. You’re building a team, a culture of people that you want to work with. It’s very fucking simple to be honest in the beginning when you think of it like that. And that’s the common case. There’s the other cases. And so to me, it’s just an idea that process doesn’t exist because it doesn’t need to is kind of the general mantra early on. And then you don’t realize that you do have a process. There is a way this stuff happens. And it’s not documented. And then you have to scale it, meaning you have to go from five people to 20 in some amount of time. Either because you raised money or the business is doing well and you have needs that people can solve. That’s one aspect of it. Another aspect of it is if you want to repeat anything that you’re doing, whether it’s … Usually it’s because you’re doing it well hopefully, repetition doesn’t happen without process. Repetition doesn’t happen without something to repeat. So that’s my rant on it.
Steli: Alright, I love it. So the thing I really love most that you said is that if you are aware of it or not, you already have a process in place. You don’t have to have it written down to have a process. You don’t have to think that it’s perfect for it to be a process. It just needs to be the way you’re doing things. The way you’re doing things are your process. I say this all the time, people are telling me especially in hiring actually. Startups will tell me, “We know we need to hire a few salespeople, but we don’t have our sales process figured out yet, so we’re waiting for that before we hire you. But we don’t have a sales process yet. So we’re trying to get to one.” I’m like, “Well how many customers do you have?” He’s like, “Well we have like 100 customers.” I’m like, “Well then you have a process. You have a sales process right now. It might not be an ideal sales process. It might not be the sales process you’re going to have a year from now. But you have one.” And I think that, that realization is key. I think most people think as long as I have not written it down, it doesn’t exist. Since we didn’t write it down, it does not exist. So we don’t have to think about it. And we’re not responsible for how bad it is since we haven’t written it down. It does exist. If you do something the same way or a similar way, more than once, boom, that’s your process. That’s the way that your company is doing certain things or your team is doing certain things. I think realizing that is a really powerful thing because when you realize that, process doesn’t become this thing, this burdenous thing that’s like, “We’re going to do the process shit once we’re really big, but we don’t want to be bogged down by it today.” You’d have to realize you already have it. The question is now, how conscious do you want to be? How mindful do you want to be about it? And how much documentation around it do you want to do? What is practical and tactical at this stage of your company? One thing that I’ll throw out there, to me, so this is one of the biggest realizations I had that I think is really key when it comes to process and startups. If you have it, it doesn’t matter if you’ve written it down or not. The second is, that it really doesn’t fucking matter how you write it down. It doesn’t matter what software you use. Oh, should we put this in a Google doc, an Avenote, should we write this on an email chain? Should this be a chat? Should we have a wiki? Where do we put this stuff, this documentation around our process? Where do we place all of this? All that doesn’t matter to me as much. But what really matters is that when you do it, the more important thing, the more valuable thing is not the doing part of it. Thinking about process like a product. And thinking about the first version … Thinking versions. I think a lot of times startups struggle with writing out a process for something that they’re doing or thinking it through because they think it needs to be perfect. It needs to be like you do it once, it’s perfect. It forever is useful and everybody will comply to it and use it, and we’re done with it. And they think about this in such a massive terms, that it’s daunting and they never have the time to do this 30 page documentation thing for something. Think about it in versions, the worst thing about any process documentation I’ve ever seen is that a team or a person will spend a good amount of time doing it, and then nobody’s using it. Nobody’s revisiting, nobody’s updating it. In six months, nine months, 12 months down the line, somebody does a completely new version of it, completely unaware that there was an older version a year ago that nobody ever looked at or used. So to me the biggest thing is, whatever you do, think on it in versions and just … If it’s worth having a written out process for something in your company, then just commit to revisiting it maybe every two weeks, maybe every once at least. Just taking 15 minutes or 20 minutes as a team or as an individual person. And giving it an update. Looking at it and saying, “Is the still the thing we’re doing? Is this still useful? Have we learned something or changed something that forces this document or this process that we’ve spelled out and written out to be updated or improved?” And if you do that consistently, even just once a month for 12 months, having a document that spells out a process within your company is more likely they’re not going to be really, really useful. It’s when you put together a 20 page document and nobody ever looks at it again. That’s when process is really, really wasteful in my mind.
Hiten: Oh my God, you’re so right. So I think it’s like, you don’t want to force process like documentation for no reason. It’s not what I’m suggesting. What I am suggesting is that if there’s something you need to repeat, you start thinking through, how are you going to repeat this the best way possible? And usually it has to do with, “I need to hire. I need to do marketing. I need to do sales.” These are simple processes. And some of these categories like sales, you have to think through process in order to even do it once. You know what I mean? It’s just that if you didn’t write it down, or if founders are doing the selling, and then they want to hire somebody, if they haven’t written down the process or thought through that, then they’re depending on the other person they hire to do that. That is awful. That never works. If you’re doing something or if somebody in your company’s doing something and it needs to be repeated, it’s that person who’s doing it’s job to at least start writing something up about how it’s being done. So that’s what I mean by process. Write down what you’re doing if you know you need to do it again. And especially when you know someone else needs to do it again that’s not you. Because this is the core problem in a lot of business. Somebody does it, they do a great job. Does it, meaning any task in a company, any process, anything. And then all of a sudden, someone else has to do it. And then what happens? This is like the most common frustration I hear. That other person needs to do it. They just take it off. Pick up whatever tool, do whatever. There’s no process, no step by step written. They’ve had some output of that task, and the person who originally did it is like, “Oh they suck at it.” No. You fucking suck. They don’t suck. Because you didn’t tell them how to do it.
Steli: Yeah. It’s always your fault. That’s another .
Hiten: Oh I love that. There’s a whole episode on that. Save that one for sure. I love that.
Steli: It’s always your fault.
Hiten: Oh that’s my favorite. That is my favorite.
Steli: It’s a core principle that we both share. It’s always your fault. I don’t care. Sorry, I love that. So let me throw out two shout outs and then we can wrap up this episode because it’s a really short one. I think if people that listen to this realize that they have processes in place, no matter if they’ve written it down or not, and that as more people on the team join, having something written up and documented, documenting your process might be incredibly powerful for them to be able to do their job really well, and to do it quickly and get onboarded quickly. And also, writing it out, another real big benefit of it is that it makes certain mistakes or certain things that are broken about the process so much more obvious. Writing it out highlights the good and the bad for everybody and it makes it transparent. It takes it out of your head, out of your email inbox, out of your funky way of doing things and it puts it on a piece of paper in a way that three, four, 10 people can look at it and go and ask important questions. “Why don’t we just jump ahead of this step? Why is this thing important? Why is this whole thing even the way we’re doing it? Can we approach it a different way?” It makes it transparent and when you have transparency within your company, people are going to make better decisions, but also mistakes, errors and areas of improvement are more obvious for all people to point out. And for yourself to see clearly. So I think that that’s one of the value points. And a lot of people think sales is not like … Sales people aren’t really process oriented people and so sales teams don’t really like that. Well one of the biggest things that I’ve always been advocating for people that know my sales content and stuff is to have a sales script in place and to have an objection management document in place. Objection management document is nothing other than the top ten objections your prospects have. The things you hear every single day. “Oh your product is too expensive. Oh we already use your competitors product for X, Y, Z.” Whatever the thing is that your sales team hears again and again and again and again, just write out what people will … What kind of objections your prospects will have and how to deal with them. And on that document, once every two weeks, once every month, you have a sit down with the sales team, you look at these objections and you reconfirm, “Are these still the main objections that we have to manage and to deal with when it comes to our prospects?” Yes or no? And then, “Are these still the best ways to approach managing these objections? Are these still good answers or good philosophies? Or how do we act or how to respond to these objections.” And then the team can come up with better solutions. Some sales person might say, “Hey, I’ve tried a different approach the last five times, and it’s working really, really well.” And that person can share within the team. And now we can update the document and then this new better way of dealing with something can now be applied throughout the entire team. Versus just for one person. The same thing is true for sales scripts. I’m not a big read word for word out of a sales script kind of guy or remember or memorize a sales script. I think that that’s dumb. But I do think it’s good to design a conversation mindfully and think, “Hey, the first time we talked to somebody or when we demo our product, what is the structure of that demo? What is the structure of that conversation? What’s the beginning, the middle and the end? What are really important thing to highlight? What are good ways to transition from one step to the next?” I think that those things need to be designed, improved, iterated and changed over time, and if you don’t write it down and don’t share within the team, everybody’s going to be doing something different. And some people are going to be doing things that are really bad and some people are going to do things that are really brilliant and your entire company is going to be missing out on learning from the great and avoiding the bad because everybody just does whatever the fuck they want. So writing these things out and going back to them consistently and making small incremental improvements, can make process a really valuable, really practical thing. I don’t like the theoretical part of it either. I don’t want to have a 20 page process document about some bullshit that nobody will ever look at. That’s wasting time and energy. That I hate. But doing small documentations for things that are really repetitive tasks that are really important, crucial tasks in the company is super, super valuable and important.
Hiten: Well I think that’s a brilliant example of process. And getting it right and making sure that you’re not missing anything. So we should end with that. That’s a really solid example for sales.
Steli: Awesome. So let’s wrap up the episode. I’ll give two quick shout outs though as well. One to our friends at ProcessRead. So for people that really want to get much better at, when it comes to process, sometimes a tool can make a big difference. I want to give a shout out to two quick tools. One is process.st for street. These guys have built a tool around documenting process, automating process. They’ve shit out really good templates on how to do certain things. They have really good content around that as well. So give those guys a look if you’re interested in that. And then the other tool is Asana, which is more of a project management tool than just a process tool. But you can do a lot of neat things. And we have one guy on the team, Nick, who is a big Asana champion and hero. And he’s really advocated and and there’s things that he’s done especially for repetitive tasks where you can set up things in Asana to make these repetitive tasks really automated as templates and it’s saved us a ton of time and it’s really increased the transparency in many different areas of our team. So I want to give a shout out to those two tools for people that are like … That want to have a tool to guide them and they don’t just want to use a Google doc. Give Asana and ProcessRead a look. It might be, one of the two might be something that you can use and that helps you document the processes in your mind anyways. Alright, that’s it from us for this episode.