Start-ups are rocket ships fuelled by dreams. Well that’s the poetic (and very limited) way of looking at it. But on the ground start-ups are sometimes built out of the murkiest stuff. Initial negotiations with funders are like mud wrestling matches under the tropical sun. Working in borrowed spaces, people who build start-ups are building rocket ships but these ships are fuelled not just by dreams but often with blood, sweat, broken relationships, stress, and dangerously dipping bank balances and yes nightmares! Yes, some have it easier… you know the silver spoon kind… but the only thing they might not need to worry about (might not) is the money, the rest of the dark stuff they get to deal with as well (most of the time).
But it isn’t all that bad if you are partnering with the right people. And yes when a start-up first actually starts up, all your employees are your partners. They took your job offer after graduating or after quitting a shinier job (or a drab one) probably because they liked your dream, a lot. This “dream love” is what probably makes up for the slightly lower pay they see in their account statements each month compared to their other mates working for the big fish.
Talking about big fish, start-ups either want to become them or want to become big-fat-juicy-&-tasty enough to be eaten up by a particularly big fish. The people you hire know that and it means a certain level of uncertainty in their futures. And they still work for you! Now that is commitment. Period.
This is why, for start-ups, Human Resource Management is not just a function, it’s personal. It means building relationships and avoiding messy soul sucking break ups. Start-ups need to be even more conscious about the kind of people they want working with them. Yes, skills, experience and qualifications count but most importantly, it’s the “dream love”, the personality spectrum that somehow believes in that crazy idea of yours. Remember it’s a spectrum. You are going nowhere with several clones of yourself who are as stubborn as you.
Joseph Fung, co-founder and CEO of TribeHR in his post at Forbes.com talks about three things that start-up founders need to know about the HR word(s). Firstly, personality matters. That is absolutely true. However, don’t get too comfortable, there will be conflict. Like any good, stimulating and mutually nurturing relationship, there will be fights (conflicts). Your partners (I am hoping you are comfortable calling them that) will not always agree with you and there will be days you don’t talk to each other. But, don’t start the divorce proceedings yet, try listening. They just might have found a crack in your rocket ship and want nothing but to fix it so it can reach the moon. If not, listen anyway, converse, explain, elucidate, get them to trust you again. Remember they have “dream love”. That has to be worth something. And yes, sometimes for world peace, break up, but do it the right way. Don’t throw them out of the house and change the locks. People are going to talk. Don’t create opportunities for them to talk nasty. You still want to become a big fish one day right?
That brings me to Fung’s second point. Be transparent. Really, in the era of Glassdoor, FB, LinkedIn, and angry Tweets, you don’t have a choice. The world is eventually going to find out how you roll in terms of how you treat your employees, clients and how you do business. But transparency also refers to the concept notes, blue charts, secret agendas (evil plans of world domination) that you might have in mind for your rocket ship. These you might have a bit of trouble sharing with your brand new family… and who can blame you. But because you have a family now and because all of you share this “dream love” it’s important that they know your goals so that they can effectively contribute to achieving them. Yes, you do need to be careful and you shouldn’t overwhelm them with your visions of the future all at once as soon as they join. Take it slow and steady, like you would be with a (personal life) partner when you are thinking of going on a journey to find the potion for immortality (and they call 911). And yes, you will have to exercise different levels of care and trust. There will be some trade secrets which will be shared with a chosen few. But really, how awesome it would be if we could live in a world without hidden agendas and everyone could trust everyone and there would be no war or pain… (ok just had a daydream there). Anything is possible, right?
Finally, Fung says “Follow the “why” forward”. In simple English, that means let the people know why they are working with you instead of accumulating vast amounts of wealth for and with Big Fish. You definitely have vision. That’s why you are daring to build a rocket ship that runs on alternative fuel right? I mean what happens when it reaches space, does it launch a satellite that detects people with superpowers, or does it want to take astronauts to build cities in Mars? You know best (or so you think). But the people partnering with you, need to know that too. Actually, take time out to tell them, reserve a dinner table, wear your best suit, make an awesome PPT and pitch hard. Your “dream lovers” are awake most of the time and need to have a rational purpose in their lives. Keep involving them and keep telling them why you are all building that rocket ship together. If they know what they are doing they are going to remain motivated, engaged and all the other positive HR stuff. But if they only hear cloudy with the chance of meatballs, they are going to jump ship or have a mental breakdown. You don’t want either of these to happen when you first start your family. Because you are really small, you have a long way to go and “dream love”, is worth everything.
So build your rocket ship, it will launch, fingers crossed. Maybe not the first time but it will eventually. Importantly though, the people you launch it with and the relationships you create with them will take you so much further than your imaginations scribbled down on the dust covers of your favourite books. Ready?