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Startup Feedback should be Casual and Constant - 4 Point Checklist

Answer was in response to a question on Quora.

Well, I think I’m qualified to help answer your question here. I spent many years working in large structured corporations and now I’m recently transitioned into the tech startup world. I would say there are many reasons why startup founders and employees are far more casual in feedback (I assume you mean feedback when you say "critical") than corporations - especially when you consider an early stage startup (pre-series B, like Wafer Inc, which is the perspective I will be answering from). Below I will give just a few reasons off the top of my head:

  • Everything is new. In an early stage startup everything is brand new. In the beginning as a founder (or earlier hire) you are constantly sprinting to get the next high-priority task done. Higher priority things like… getting your pitch deck done before the next investor lead meeting, making a strategic hire, setting up your marketing systems, fixing a production bug, the list is absolutely endless. Biggie (Notorious BIG) famously said “mo’ money mo’ problems”. In the startup founder’s world, this is absolutely true as the flow of funds, customers, and users move through your growth funnel. In an early stage startup you will find that all the formalities of a corporation do not exist. The formalities in a startup need to be loose because speed and delivery is vital to growing and staying alive.

  • Only mission-critical people are on board at this point. Don’t get me wrong, corporations have many important people who help grow and maintain operations - but in a startup we are talking about critical. Funds are typically tight in early-stage startups so only the most critical people are hired at this point. You really need all-star generalists in the beginning, with each having one or more deep competency skills. When the team is small, you never know when you will need to start filling a role that has just been newly required. No design person > you are the design person… no HR person > you are the HR person… no data analyst > you are the data analyst. You get the idea. Every person in the early stage startup needs to be both very independent and very team oriented. By the definition of early stage, the team is so small that everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Everyone is (or should be) giving feedback to each other constantly. I’m a co-founder and I still push everyone, even those I hired to give feedback to me straight.. and I do the same back. It’s informal because it is just part of the daily conversation.

  • Formal feedback is simply bureaucracy in many corporations. The idea that a startup should be formal early on sacrifices the competitive edge a small startup has over a corporation. An established corporation has history and many layers of management/systems/procedures to address business operations. This is the stability component that many like about working for a corporation. On the flip side, in a startup your key competitive advantage is speed. In a startup you do not need to go through many layers of management, paperwork, and politics to get answers and decisions made. In a startup you simply make plans and execute… adjusting as needed. The goal you are seeking in a startup requires constant iteration on everything, there is not a single day that goes by without the company getting stronger and better. In a corporation you will see some parts of the business coasting. No room for that mindset in a startup.

  • My last point is I believe that successful entrepreneurs have a stoic mindset. This means they see what is, and do not layer in needless perception or ego. Successful entrepreneurs see what it is that needs to be addressed. They can quickly and pragmatically break down problems while putting aside those things they cannot control. The things they can control such as perception help them craft ingenious solutions at light speed. This successful mindset is part nurture and part nature in my opinion. This mindset gives the freedom for the founding team members to quickly sort out “casual” feedback. They do what is required to proceed in accomplishing the startup’s mission.

Now back to your question, creating a formal way of giving feedback? This is a waste of time in an early stage startup. You need to be giving feedback every day to have a shot at making it in the startup world… in my humble opinion.:-)

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions. Cheers!

About me: I’m mostly focused on internet growth, culture, and startups and am the COO at Wafer Inc. When I can find time between being a co-founder and life I enjoy writing, mostly here and occasionally on Linkedin. If you enjoy my writing, subscribe or follow me on LinkedIn to see more in the future.


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