Ask anyone who has worked in a startup and the one thing they will certainly tell you is that they did everything there.
What do they mean by ‘everything’? It sounds cool to some and vague to many. Didn’t you have a proper role? Weren’t you in a leadership position? Were you guys going through a rough time? The startup guy or girl won’t have a reply to these questions.
What they will always feel is ‘let us grow a little more and then I would have an easier life ahead.’ But the fact is that it only gets tougher. You grow, you hire more people, business grows and you move on to newer challenges. The number of varied things you do, in my experience, doesn’t go down until you are a well-formed company with a fixed business model.
One often wonders, why is this juggling of hats in a startup so unique and why does it exist in the first place? Let me attempt to address this bit.
The business evolution, teams and processes change
To begin with, startups are all about discovering a market or pain point that others either don’t see or don’t believe in. This means dealing with a lot of uncertainties. And of course, if it was certain, wouldn’t the pain point be already solved? Given that you are dealing with a lot of unknown inputs, it is hard to hire the right people and set the right processes in place. You just don’t know what you need, requirements are unclear and you cannot plan your hires well in advance. Only when you find yourself doing something again and again, you figure that this would need a dedicated resource.
Yes, there will be times when someone far more experienced and senior may not go through the same number of issues or uncertainties, but that would have also meant having the baggage and constraints of experience. Thus, a good mentor network of experienced businessmen helps a startup.
You may know that you need five more engineers, some dedicated for mobile development and a project manager. You would also need UX experts and a UI person. However your budget permits hiring just two people in total. This is nothing new for a startup; you have constraints and the number of people you can throw at problems is always few. So how do you cope with such situations?
At Pricebaba, at least we have found a great team that has agreed to wear multiple hats. Our content writer was our graphics designer and is now our visual designer. Our marketing manager who just joined is also our product manager and our ad sales person. Our first marketing hire has seen three bosses now in less than a year and that’s not because someone quit, but because roles evolved and content team got separated from marketing. She went from reporting to the CEO to being a part of content team with marketing tasks, and eventually landing in a dedicated marketing team.
Innovation is perhaps the most underrated part of wearing multiple hats. When a content editor who has criticised technology products by the biggest and greatest companies of the world gets on to defining what a startup’s product experience should be like, he sure sets the bar very high. You surely want him to wear the additional hat of product experience along with his editorial duties.
There are synergies and surprises in wearing multiple hats, and in doing things that you have never done before. As you scale, you may need expert talent with proven experience. But innovation happens in the unknown area between mere willingness and experience.
At a startup, it is both necessary and natural to wear multiple hats, do many things and try to run the show that is managed chaos.
The fact to remember is: uncertainties and constraints drive this need for wearing multiple hats. And if you understand this, then you know that change is a constant. Hats will shuffle. New uncertainties would be embraced and what was impossible yesterday will become a part of routine today.
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