Managing and/or working in an early-stage startup is exciting; you have the potential to grow into an internationally known business, but you also get to see it in its infancy. You’ll be making the decisions and taking the actions that (hopefully) allow you to become profitable and self-sustain—but you’ll also be vulnerable to a few key weaknesses that have the power to wipe out that potential altogether.

Most entrepreneurs understand the financial threat; if you go through your initial funding before you can establish a line of consistent revenue, the company could implode. But wasted money is only half the problem; early-stage startups are also vulnerable to wasted time.

More than their mid-stage and late-stage counterparts, early-stage startups and the people working for them are likely to use their time inefficiently, resulting in lower productivity, a lower ROI on your employee salaries, and of course, a delay in accomplishing your goals. Understanding the categories and nature of this time waste is critical if you want to overcome it.

1. The Wrong Ideas

For starters, you and your team will probably spend some time working on the wrong ideas. According to a thorough evaluation of more than 200 startup postmortems, 51 percent of businesses fail because their business model isn’t viable. Of those that succeed, many had to overcome the hurdle of a non-viable business model by pivoting—in other words, changing their approach. If you find out your existing business model isn’t going to work, all the hours you spent fleshing that model out will be at least partially wasted; you may walk away with more experience and a better understanding of what to do, but you’ll have developed modules or practices that no longer work.

2. Unclear Processes

In the early stages of a startup, managers care about getting things done. They aren’t particularly concerned with documenting that process with a formal SOP, nor are they worried about keeping the process consistent between days or employees. That process ambiguity may give employees more flexibility in a chaotic and demanding environment, but it also leads to a drop in productivity and consistency of work.

3. Email and Communication

Most people don’t notice just how much time they spend emailing, and in an early stage startup, the problem is even worse. If you’re sending and receiving 200 messages a day (or more), even a 1-minute loss of time per email can lead to more than 3 hours of lost productivity in a single day. Few managers want to invest the time in tracking down these email- and communication-related issues, but they can save your team dozens of weekly hours if you can correct them.

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Time-Consuming Clients

Your earliest clients are the hardest to sell. That’s why early-stage clients often require making sacrifices, such as lowering your prices and/or dealing with difficult people. These clients may be necessary to build a reputation for yourself early on, but if you keep them too long, or aren’t able to supplement them with any clients, the work you spend on their account may be wasted.

Generalist Employees

Startups usually need people to flesh out the core team, but they don’t have much money to pay for top talent in a given field. They also have many roles that need filled simultaneously, but might only be able to afford one or two people. Accordingly, startups tend to hire “generalist” employees, rather than “specialist” employees, who are capable of a broad range of tasks, but only excel in one or two areas. As a result, you and your team will spend hours on tasks outside your realm of expertise, which means you can’t possibly work at peak efficiency.

Chaos, Tracking, and Discovery

Even the most planned-out startups tend to be chaotic in their early stages. Your workspace is new, your system is disorganized, and your plans are constantly evolving in response to new threats and needs. Keeping track of all that chaos is exceedingly difficult, and nobody wants to take the time to document how and why they’re spending time. That means you’ll have limited insight into your existing productivity issues, and you certainly won’t have a tool to help you compensate for them.

Fortunately, like most problems your early-stage startup will face, the time loss vulnerability issue is fixable with sufficient investment and attention. Becoming more aware of how you spend your time, and addressing known time wasters proactively are your best tools in ensuring that your team remains as productive as possible throughout your run.


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