Are startups and large enterprises really very different? Well, yes they are. But to make this piece somewhat longer than a haiku, let me probe a little deeper into some unexpected areas of similarity.
I have worked for Barclays, GE, IBM - large companies by any measure. I have also worked for CHEF, a scrappy startup and darling of DevOps. During this stint I had the pleasure of getting to know some other startups rather well too.
Moving from a 300,000 to a 300 person company was a bit like being Tom Daly (a weightier, less ripped version) finding mid-pike that there was less water in the pool than was ideal. “What do you mean we don’t have team goals?”
Software startups are led by one of two factions. Engineering and the founder. Or, the sales people. Sales leadership are brought in once the founder realises she prefers coding to lunching for a living. The interplay between sales and engineering is very similar to the traditional divide between IT and ‘business’ in the large enterprise. There is much public expression of mutual respect along with lashings of complete incomprehension at how the other sees the world.
In most software startups, management is accidental. This means that they grew into leaders by being good at (typically) selling stuff. It is thought that there is no sense, or reason, in a small company, to have professional managers, or people who are specifically experienced as managers. Now, large enterprises (GE being a signal example) are very good at training managers to manage. Most startups suffer from this gap. Don’t let this fool you into thinking that in large enterprises management is necessarily any less accidental.
The CIO, CDO, CTO… (We will run out of consonants soon) is increasingly being drawn from outside the traditional technology domain, like finance. These people have built their careers on counting stuff. And everyone knows there’s a lot of stuff that needs counting in IT.
The moral here is that the management of both startups and enterprises begins to show the massive change our industry is going through. Software startups need to realise that they must do more than just shill software and rather build a platform for change in their customers. Enterprises are realising that the artificial divide between ‘business’ and IT has created an almost feral culture of the latest technology.
A new kind of management is needed: One that is based on creating deep alignment between the builders of product and the consumers of it, while removing as many obstacles between these two as possible.