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Politics in a startup

I recently started working in a startup. We're small, just went national, and VC funded. There are about 40 corporate employees.

Understandably, things are very loose and chaotic, as you'd expect in a startup. What I'm utterly shocked at is the amount of politics I seem to have walked in on. Marketing is constantly fighting with tech to design features that will bring in revenue.

Marketing: We need business! We need these features
Tech: We already designed xxxx and it works fine, we're also swamped so we can't devote time to your desires.

There's a lot of NIH syndrome and a lot of "we're engineers, you're marketing" feelings going around. Meanwhile, business is not nearly where it should be--but this is hard to notice because there are almost NO tracking mechanisms in place to judge sales, conversions, etc.

I love startups, don't get me wrong. And there is a lot to be said for the chaotic nature of a startup, which lets me do what I want and push it through. But that last mile, when you're trying to improve a process that will ultimately improve the company and its bottom's unbelievable how much politics influences moving forward.

Friday, July 23, 2004

It sounds a lot like your management should be getting a better handle on what is going on.

The most crucial aspect of any business is a good management team IMO, especially a small business, and if they're not tracking sales, or seeing that the programmers make the features that would bring in the most new sales, then political issues are inevitable.

James U-S
Friday, July 23, 2004

Dont let marketing talk to tech. Marketing should only talk to the project managers and let them fight the fights. Of course you need a project manager who understands software development or else it wont help at all.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Errr, you just have too many people.

If all 40 are involved in making and implementing decisions work out the combinatorial mechanics in that.

Startups require flexibility and a lack of borders between tasks and an overarching view of the goal in hand.

With 40 people you're going to have a lot of conflicting agendas.

Simon Lucy
Friday, July 23, 2004

In my experience, 40 people is critical mass for really hairy politics to appear.  It's enough people that there can be three or more substantial factions (greater than 10 people each), and enough wildcards and civilians to get in the way. 

As someone said above, good management is critical to keeping it all running smoothly.  Remember, everyone wants to feel important. 

Friday, July 23, 2004

Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing. You appear to be at stage 2.  Unless of course chaos is your norm, in which case you are at stage 3.

David Clayworth
Friday, July 23, 2004

Is upper management gun shy to fire people?  If so it may stay bad or get worse until eventually the VCs fire upper management.  Been there, done that.  I'm a firm believer in the power of strategically replacing people, the sooner the better.

Friday, July 23, 2004

It could be the VCs fault. He wants his payback in a big hurry, so he no doubt hand picked the marketing team and your technical management probably had no say in it.

The dichotomy is that the VC wants to make a fast buck but the founders have a long-term dream. These two ideals are diametrically opposed.

So the VC gets Mkt guys who tell him that it will take this and that feature to sell a lot in a short time and time to market is critical. All without regard to engineering feasibility or programmer productivity.

Then the costs get out of control and his fast buck starts to go with it. He then blames engineering for not delivering and tries to replace them with the people who tell him what he wants to hear.

The founders then revolt because the VC is ruining their dream and they make a counter plan for both engineering and marketing which pulls everyone on two directions. Keep your eyes on where the red swingline stapler goes.

Friday, July 23, 2004

EAW has an interesting insight there: it concurs with my experience that around 35-45 people, the character of a company totally changes.

Friday, July 23, 2004

marketing always fights with tech over features. This is not politics, it's normal. What's not normal is that developers are involved; it should be managed on manager's level, or, ideally, by Product Management.

I used to work in a place where the manager liked to get his team (me) involved in politics. I didn't like it.

Monday, July 26, 2004

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