What Makes an Early Stage Startup Exhilarating?

As I approach the end of a year in which me and my partners grew The Iron Yard from four employees and one location to almost 40 employees across 10 locations, I’m beginning the process of reflection. Thoughts are still codifying and lessons are still being learned, but one thing that I’ve found is that it’s somewhat difficult to describe exactly what this experience has been like.

More specifically, explaining the paradox of why extremely hard work, long hours and sustained stretches of imbalance is actually fun is somewhat of a challenge. As with many things, tangibly experiencing a paradox is the best way to understand it.

I recently read an article on Rands in Repose called The Old Guard1. In support of a larger point, Rands describes the hard-won payoff of growing a startup company beautifully (bold emphasis mine):

After years of struggling, the dream that became the idea becomes the business. A corner is turned and the question changes from, “Are we going to survive?” to “How are we going to scale?” As part of this acceleration program comes the arrival of eager new faces who have heard the stories of success in the face of adversity. They are inspired by these stories and they want to figure out how they can help.

When the New Guard shows up, they notice, well, beautiful, beautiful chaos. Ideas are coming from every direction, decisions are collaborative and high velocity because the team is small enough that you can efficiently ask everyone’s opinion. It’s intoxicating. Execution is shared and terrifyingly fast because there is little desire to bicker. Most everyone still believes they are on the brink of disaster. That’s mainly because they’ve lived in this world so long.

The organization of the Old Guard is instinctively flat. There is rapid and organic error correction because everyone has line of sight on everything. The cost of gathering situational awareness is low because the Old Guard has borderline mystical abilities to figure things out. This is because they’ve got a near-complete mental catalog of the people, their knowledge, and their abilities.

The Old Guard has recognized experience, but more importantly, each day the Old Guard demonstrates to the New Guard that they have instinct. They can rapidly make important decisions with the barest of facts and they have a sense of urgency motivated by their deeply rooted belief that this is the home that they built with their hands and, again, they believe this precious thing could be destroyed in a moment.

The Old Guard’s instinct is well earned and essential, but instinct doesn’t scale without help.

“Beautiful, beautiful chaos”—intoxicating momentum driven by talented, motivated people—is a perfect way to describe my experience at The Iron Yard in 2014.


1. You can read the original article about the old guard on the Rands in Repose website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two + 12 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.