Why startups need management?

May 18, 20172 min read


“Let’s do it!” – probably the most dangerous sentence one can hear in a startup.


How “management” got a bad rep?


Anyone who spent any amount of time in your typical, soulless, corporation – amputated of any purpose – will not be keen on management. Endless hierarchies, committees, meetings called to discuss other meetings – all that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

However, I’d argue that the problem is not management – but bad management, though most of us don’t make the difference anymore.

It reminds me of stock markets. When one studies the origins, it’s a perfectly reasonable idea – to have a place where capital can be allocated in the most efficient way. Somewhere along the line, however, we got technical analysis, derivatives, systems, speculation and so on. Or, in other words, form took over the function.

Similar argument could be made about management. While, it is easy to understand how 10 or 20 people need some way of organizing themselves, at one point it became about corner office, corporate card, politics and general douchebaggery.

Different problems


Ultimately, startups and scale-ups will have many problems that don’t exist in corporations or are diametrically opposed.

  • Engagement vs Focus 
    While corporations try to come up with ways to motivate their employees, startups typically don’t have those problems. One could say that, if anything, employees in startup are too motivated, which often leads to lack of focus. Always trying something new – the shiny object syndrome.
  • Too much communication vs Too little communication 
    Any self-respecting corporation will have it’s meeting rooms booked days in advance. At the same time, in startups “doing” is so highly valued, that many times information is hidden – not out of political reasons – but, because people “don’t have time” to share
  • Vertical vs Flat organizations 
    The countless levels of hierarchy in a corporation often make getting something done next to impossible. So much so, that “corporate visibility” and “information” become currency. At the same time, flat organizations in startups make too many things possible. Lack of alignment in flat organizations can often cause waste and weaken the impact of any given initiative.
  • Lack of discipline 
    Probably the single biggest problem of every startup I’ve encountered. Too much discipline leads to rigidity, but too little leads to nothing. It is said that all medicines are poison; it’s the dosage that makes the difference. Same goes for discipline.

Obviously, there are many more of such examples, but these suffice to illustrate the point. Management is about solving problems at scale.

Managing startups


Startups are no strangers to methodologies. Lean , Agile , Holacracy … just to name the few.

Even to a typical startup’s madness there should be some sort of a method behind.

And, yes, OKRs are a fine choice of a method. 🙂

While not perfect, OKRs tick many of the boxes important to startups:

  • lightweight
  • objective (milestone) driven
  • data driven

All kinds of different businesses use OKRs today, but it was the technology startups such as Google, LinkedIn or Zynga where OKRs really took off.