For a manager finding a system that allows for maximum and enjoyment is difficult. Here a guide on how the most successful startups structure are designed.

Gavin Bell, Startup Grind; June 25, 2020

As an entrepreneur, I’m obsessed with improving. I’m always on the lookout for ways to become more efficient and more productive. And not by “hustling” more.

Don’t get me wrong… you need to work hard in order to achieve what you want to achieve. But “hustle” isn’t a reliable or sustainable way to scale a business.

There is only so much of ‘create a massive to-do list and WORK till it’s done’ someone can do. I’m sure you know, the to-do list never ends.

A few years ago, that’s exactly how I worked. I said yes to everything, added everything to my todo list (I had no team at the time) and set unrealistic expectations on what I could achieve.

I, of course, wouldn’t finish the list, which led to me getting frustrated, not enjoying my work and ultimately burning out. It wasn’t a good time.

I felt like I was running on a hamster wheel. Doing lots of things, but getting nowhere.

Maybe you can relate to this? Most of us have been there. Entrepreneurs by nature have shiny object syndrome. We love doing stuff. We are so ambitious and excited about what we do that we try and do everything ourselves. But it doesn’t work.

In order to scale a business, you need a system. A system that not only you as the entrepreneur can stick to, but one that your team (as it grows) can also stick to.

In my constant pursuit of becoming more and more productive, I’ve experimented with and tested many different ways of working. I’ve also done a lot of research on how some of the most successful startups structure their work.

In this article, I’m going to share three ways successful startups structure their work, so you can implement them in your business too.

Basecamp’s 6 Week Cycles

Two reasons startups fail to get off the hamster wheel is because they either:

  1. Set unrealistic expectations (the endless to-do list)
  2. Set goals too far ahead

We’ve already spoken about the first problem already. But the second one is just as troublesome. If you set your goals too big and too far in the future, they feel unattainable and therefore not motivational.

Basecamp spotted this and decided to implement a 6-week cycles working system. Many others have since adopted this methodology, such as Buffer and Intercom.

All of their work is batched into 6-week cycles. Where for those 6 weeks, they focus solely on one or two projects.

Basecamp say: “Six weeks is long enough to build something meaningful start-to-finish and short enough that everyone can feel the deadline looming from the start, so they use the time wisely. The majority of our new features are built and released in one six-week cycle.”

I love this way of working and it’s something we’ve rolled out across our business as well. I’ve always been a big goal person.

Set big goals and then do everything I can to hit them. But as I mentioned above, there’s a big problem with that… and Intercom sum it up beautifully in their article: 6 weeks: why it’s the Goldilocks of product timeframes.

As the length of your cycle grows, your confidence in delivering on it drop dramatically.

When I set goals that are too far ahead of me — I often get lost in the day to day activities. I say yes to things that aren’t conducive to hitting my goals because I think “saying yes to this workshop won’t have an impact on my 5-year goal”.

But every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else.

Of course, we still have the main goals that we want to achieve, but the difference is in how we now approach hitting them. We will now spend time planning what things we need to do in order to hit them.

Let’s say a goal of ours is to achieve a members retention rate of 30% for our Funnel Academy programme.

We will sit down and think about all the different ways we could do that:

  • Improve our onboarding process
  • Improve the email sequences
  • Change our pricing/business model
  • Etc.

And then rather than just going after them all, we pick the one we believe to have the most impact and we try and make it happen within a 6-week window. That is our sole focus.

Once the 6-week cycle has been completed we can move onto the next. Then the next. Then the next.

This does two things:

  1. Allows you to have insane focus on one outcome/project
  2. Allows you to structure the work better by focussing on three main parts: planning, doing and analysis

If you work on endless to-do lists, you’ll often find you don’t “have the time” to analyse the work you’re doing. And therefore you don’t know what is working and what’s not working for you.

And if you don’t know what’s working and what’s not, it’s almost impossible to continue growing.

Get Things Done Methodology

Another methodology I like to use is the “Getting things done” (GTD) method. This is a time management method created by productivity consultant, David Allen.

As I previously mentioned, as entrepreneurs we suffer from shiny object syndrome. We have an idea, and like a dog chasing a rabbit, we’re off!

This might be fun and exciting, but it often causes us to focus on the things in our business that don’t actually move the needle (in terms of business growth). We end up focussing on things that are fun, not productive.

GTD’s main concept is around taking the ideas and things that come into your head and instead of adding them to your to-do list or doing them right away, you record them somewhere.

Then, every day/week/month (you choose) you revisit all of those ideas and decide upon which ones you’re going to actually action. I’m sure you’ve been there…

You open your laptop, ready to start a day’s work. You open YouTube to see if anyone has commented on your latest video.

But a video in your “recommended” catches your attention and you begin watching it… Then all of a sudden, you find yourself down a YouTube black hole watching cat videos.

You forget why you went on YouTube in the first place. You’ve just wasted 30 minutes and haven’t achieved a single thing on your to-do list. GTD fixes this exact problem.

Rather than clicking on the video in the first place, GTD would have you take note of the link somewhere, for you to then revisit at a later date/time. When you revisit you can decide to either action it or delete it.

Thus, you’re not being led by your shiny object syndrome, you’re being led by what’s important for you to work on at that moment in time.

Lean Thinking

The third and final work methodology I found during my research is a concept called “lean thinking”.

The lean startup methodology was created by Eric Ries and is a methodology designed to “drive a startup — how to steer, when to turn and when to persevere and grow a business with maximum acceleration.”

When many entrepreneurs get started in the business, they begin with their idea. Something they believe the market wants. They then spend months (even years) trying to create the perfect product. But what they fail to do is let the market see, feel and use that product. Until it’s “perfect.”

The problem with this is, if you never show your product to your customers (even at the very start), you don’t get feedback from the people who are going to be using it. And thus you may end up creating a product that people don’t even want.

The core message from the lean startup is around the starting up of a business — and why you should build a minimum viable product (MVP). But actually, this philosophy can carry over into the running and scaling of a business, which is why I have included it in this article.

Your business can be 10 years old, yet still, adopt a lean way of thinking. Every new product that you bring to market, you can build it on the same philosophy.

Every time you make an assumption about something — whether product-based or marketing or something else — you can ask yourself: is this my assumption or something the customer actually wants?

I’ve had an agency for a few years now and a few years ago I know I wanted to help businesses on a larger scale — including the ones that couldn’t afford my agency services. I decided to create a course for them — covering all aspects of running Facebook ads.

It was brilliant. It had literally everything you could ever want to know about Facebook ads in it. But there was a problem…

I assumed that’s what the market wanted. I didn’t do any research in finding out what my customers actually wanted. I spent months creating this course. It was incredible. But when I launched it, the sales just weren’t there.

A few people purchased it, but not at the level of scale I was hoping for. And it was then I realised… business owners don’t want to learn how to run Facebook ads. They want the results that Facebook ads bring them. So, I decided to try again… but this time using the lean method.

I had a free Facebook Group teaching ads at the time and I surveyed the members, asking them:

  • What do you want to learn — why are you in this group?
  • Why do you want to learn it — what would it mean to your business?
  • What obstacles are in the way?
  • How would you like to learn all of this?

By asking these questions, I very quickly saw what the market needed. They told me their problems, what they wanted to achieve and over 70% of respondents told me they wanted to learn via a membership.

They gave me the exact ingredients I needed. Whilst I was building the membership, I would let people in to check it out and give me feedback.

When we launched the membership we got to over 100 members very quickly and it’s been a success ever since. And I continue using lean thinking… by regularly surveying members to ask what they want from the membership!

This has saved me an enormous amount of time, energy and stress as I’m able to focus all my time on the things that my members actually want.

The key to effective working is finding a system that works for you, your team and your culture. It’s not smart to force a working methodology onto your business just because you read this article or came across the latest system.

In my business, we’ve taken elements of all three of these methodologies and made them work for us. If we find ways to improve that in the future, great!

Find a system that allows for maximum productivity, happiness and enjoyment.