Category: Operations

How Startups Should Manage Costs

expenses startups

There’s a problem at many startups:

We spend too much money.

With the decade long bull market and excessive fundraising environment, unprofitable startups are gobbling cash at a remarkable pace. The mantra is “grow as fast as possible, raise the valuation, figure out profitability later.” That can certainly work for some, unless the music stops. If there are unforeseen circumstances — a new product doesn’t work or the business model shows some flaws — that spigot of never ending money may stop flowing.

I felt this pain acutely at my last startup. We grew quickly and let hefty expenses, many for products and services that we didn’t even need, pile up. Our leadership team was eager to add more staff to scale, but we didn’t carefully consider how the additional costs would reduce our runway and increase our risk, especially if revenue did not grow as quickly as we projected, or if we couldn’t collect accounts receivables promptly. Not surprisingly, we encountered both of those obstacles. This forced us to make layoffs, which is agonizing for everyone involved. It was a valuable lesson learned and shaped my current philosophy on cost management.

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Business Infrastructure

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 6.46.28 AMWhen a startup begins acquiring customers, it feels pretty magical. Once the sale is closed, there might be a few manual processes in place, like writing down some detailed information about the customer, setting up the product for them and configuring automatic billing. What happens when we have 100 customers? Suddenly, we have a massive influx of new data to track. Is each customer getting billed properly? Do we know who the customer’s key contacts are so we don’t accidentally send them future marketing emails?

These challenges are precisely why a growing startup requires some basic business infrastructure: systems, processes and tools that enable us to do the important stuff (sales, marketing, product, etc) seamlessly. Most companies refer to this team as Business Systems or Business Operations. There are 3 simple goals for that team:

  • Launch and maintain internal tools
  • Ensure visible internal data
  • Create scalable processes

Let’s break down each of these goals:

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