Developing A Productive Startup: What You Need to Know

by Guest Author on March 25, 2013

With so much on the line, it’s easy for the startup owner to become a micromanager, constantly hovering over employee shoulders with “helpful tips.” But real productivity and efficiency arise when employees are given the right tools and freedom to invest in the success of the company — not when they’re micromanaged. Here are a few ways a startup can create both a sustainable business structure and an efficient work culture.

1. Invest In Cloud Based Systems

Understanding cloud computing is no longer optional for startups; hands down, there’s just no better way to create a fully scalable business. The concept of the cloud is simple: rather than storing a company’s or individual’s files on a local hard drive or on proprietary servers, this data is instead stored on a set of remote pooled servers owned, operated, and maintained by a third party. Users then access their data via the internet. This leads to a number of benefits including:
Increased mobility and collaboration. With tools like Google Docs, Dropbox and Basecamp, users can edit and add comments to documents at the same time, share important files with the exchange of a link, and better assign and track tasks across a team.
Secure and automatic backup. Cloud services like Mozy and Google Drive allow users to either schedule backups or have data sync instantly between all devices without the same risks of damage or loss associated with an external hard drive.
Cost-effective scaling. Businesses need not buy, maintain and upgrade server space before they’re ready, yet they can quickly purchase more should their businesses take off.

2. Cut Back on Daily Tasks Like Email

Encourage employees to use a method like Inbox Zero to turn email from a distraction into a work task like any other. The main idea here is to schedule regular times for email checking, and instantly deal with every email that comes through so that the inbox goes back to zero after every session. With each email, users should decide whether or not it can be answered in 3 minutes or less. If so, they should go ahead and answer it. If not, they should file it under starred emails, and schedule time to answer it later. Employees should also make good use of filters, instantly labeling things like industry newsletters and archiving them, and they should take the time to unsubscribe from as many mailing lists as possible.

3. Focus on Shipping Minimum Viable Products (MVPs)

Too often, startups work forever to make their products perfect. But whether or not customers will like that product when it’s finally done is entirely up in the air, and it can also be difficult to know and account for user problems with the product. What’s more, many startups don’t actually know what they’re good at or just where the heart of their innovation lies until the market tells them so.

Much better to go for a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) — a product that has just enough features to be employed, and no more. This is in no way the final product; rather, you’ll work in various iterations, constantly improving as you go. Not only will this give you a sense of just how your product is being received and where your capital is best spent, but it’s also a great way to keep the team excited, passionate, and on its toes.

4. Focus on Short Actionable Meetings (SCRUMS)

Meetings can be a huge time suck. With daily SCRUMs, you’ll trade longevity for intensity and concision. In meetings that are no longer than 15 minutes, check in with employees to see what they did yesterday, what they’re planning on doing today, and where they expect to encounter roadblocks. Ban all distracting devices from the meeting, as well as all side talk. Get in and get out!

5. Trust Your Employees and Encourage Freedom/Ownership

Healthy productivity is rooted in trust and respect. Employees that feel invested in their work will produce better results — the kind so crucial to startups reliant on quick innovations. Of course, the first step to trusting your employees is choosing employees you know will work hard, are creative and smart, and who get along well in a team with little potential for ego-clash. You can show your employees you trust them by asking directly for their opinions, both for subject matter issues and for making the business more efficient. When employees come to you with interesting ideas, see if there’s a way you can include them in further iterations.


Developing a productive startup requires just as much trust, communication and flexibility as it does discipline. Get that infrastructure set, and you’ll spend more time innovating and producing than scrambling to keep up with competitors.

About the Author:
Luke Clum is a designer and writer from Seattle. Follow him on Twitter @lukeclum

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  • Jonathan Pasky

    Nos. 1 through 4 are spot on. As for No. 5, I am biased as an intellectual property attorney, but always, always lock down your company’s (and your employees’) IP. As soon as the company is successful, this always becomes an issue.