3 lessons learned from a decade in startups

I’m currently working in the 5th venture funded organisation in my career. It’s almost 10 years since I started working with Neo4j: I was consulting for them around the 3rd quarter of 2011, and then joined full-time for the next few years. Here’s some idle thoughts around startups:

Staying alive beats everything else. Like a living thing, startups will endure all sorts of horrors to stay alive. Crappy work conditions, penny-pinching, super economy travel: all necessary unless you have the enough runway to upgrade. It’s the job of the management team to keep the business afloat, so don’t complain about having to buy your own lunch. The present amount of funding available means that startup employees get amazing benefits: it’s not normal.

Silos will hurt your startup. It’s easier than ever for organisations to spread around the world. It’s also easy to create geographic as well as organisational silos. You need to work out how to prevent that in your organisation: having Sales based in one region and Engineering in another can easily lead to silos. We’re tribal creatures, and will naturally create ingroups and outgroups based on department and geography. Plan accordingly.

Risk and compliance will matter. Sure, go ahead and pivot all you like while you’re trying to find your startup’s place in the world. Kick as many cans down the road as you can: you might not even stay on that road. Once you’re on that road: start investing in the tools to make compliance and security easier. You don’t have to start with much; perhaps some advice on how to get started. I’ve seen several organisations make compliance difficult, or be unaware of the risk that they’re running by uh, not managing risk.

While you’re reading about risk: after ten long years in startups I’m moving back to consulting. I’ll be joining Safe Advisory at the beginning of May to do security and DevSecOps advisory. I’m looking forward to the change: helping people to demystify security and fearlessly secure their organisations feels like a worthwhile pursuit. It also gets me out of the house from time to time.

DevOps New Zealand