I know, you want to cut out admin work. You want to cut out time wasted on bullshit that doesn’t directly impact traction.

It’s hard to pull yourself away from product and marketing for any extended period of time to focus on how efficiently your startup runs internally, but it does have to be done.

Srinivas Kulkarni, writing for ZDNet, reports:

“While it’s very easy to say that when startups are founded, there’s a lot of freedom, liberty and access in terms of work and building the product, technology or service that they offer, it is also important to realize that most startups fail because they don’t learn from their and others’ mistakes. It’s imperative that the experience comes from a process.”

A lot of the problems processes solve can seem like they’re easily fixed on the day they crop up, and it can seem like there’s no point in writing down how you do work when you’re too busy to even get it all done…

But any good startup will scale, analyze the ways it gets work done, and will try to improve its efficiency — that’s just what organizations that succeed do.

Y Combinator president Sam Altman compares running a startup to building a working spaceship from scratch:

“When you start a startup, you get pushed off the side of a cliff with a bag of aerospace parts. You hope they are the parts for a spaceship, and they look like they might be, but it’s impossible to tell when they’re all in a bag […] Every once in a while, it turns out you do have the parts for a spaceship […] Much of the time, you don’t have the parts to make anything at all, and should just try to hit the ground as gently as possible.”

What keeps your startup afloat, as you scramble to assemble the pieces of a spaceship, is a foundation of processes that are proven to get good results.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through what processes are, what problems they solve, then talk about the minimum viable processes your startup needs to keep it efficient without bogging it down in bureaucracy.

What are processes for startups?

Processes are a set of systems that can run without you.

They’re everything from step-by-step guides on how to get a task done, to automations and integrations.

Processes aren’t just software, or tools — they’re that combined with instructions, due dates, assignees, approvals, and explanations.

They can also be managed by other people in other companies. For example, it’s best to outsource payroll in the early days, so you could use a productized service like Intuit, or Paychex, which have both a SaaS platform you can access and humans to run it.

In this case, I’m going to define processes as documents that detail the one best way to do work.

Example processes:

  • Salesperson onboarding
  • Standup meetings
  • Software deployment

All of these processes have one thing in comment: they all have multiple steps, involve the movement and recording of information, and all can be prone to human error.

What early-stage problems do processes solve for startups?

A few example problems:

  1. Maker/manager imbalance: you can outsource the making or managing alongside processes that detail exactly how best to do the work.
  2. No funding: you can set up (semi-automated) processes with your CRM to reach out to investors
  3. Urgent admin work: to stop getting in the way of important long-term goals, you can either create processes for the work and outsource it, or systemize and batch it to make sure it doesn’t become urgent.
  4. Scaling: hire and onboard employees more easily with structured processes, plus have set instructions ready for the new hire

What are the most important things to systemize early, and which can wait?

Take advice from Martin Zwilling — ex-IBM developer and CEO of Startup Professionals: implement just one process at a time.

“The simple answer is that you need to implement one process at a time, starting with those things that are most critical to your business, until you feel a relief that things are starting to happen naturally and consistently, without the attendant stress and continual recovery mode. If you feel that the process itself is a burden, you have likely gone too far.”

Martin goes on to list the systems your business needs to have under control in order to grow. You need the most basic business functions nailed down, such as accounting and HR, but also to focus on internal communications, funding, and supporting customers.

Here are the vital processes to get documented as early as possible:

Cash flow report

At the most basic level, you need to record money coming in and going out so you know your burn rate and can predict cash flow.

For that, we’ve got a lean and easily trackable checklist:

You’ll also want to make sure your tax compliance is in order, so run this tax prep checklist once to be safe.

Meeting/feedback process for other team members

Unlike corporations, you’re not big enough to need massive regular meetings, slide decks and lectures. A quick 10-minute standup each morning will do.

You’ll need meetings for:

  • Working with outsourcers
  • Product/development
  • Discussions on financing
  • Marketing projects

Startup Studio CEO Zach Ferres explains:

“You just hired your 10th employee. Everyone isn’t in the same room anymore. The CEO no longer manages every project or interfaces with every team member, and communication starts to break down. Mistakes that would have been avoided by the founding team start to slip through the cracks.”

You can use our standup meeting checklist (found here) to notify participants, track your topics of discussion, and work through the meeting in a structured way, keeping notes and activity logs automatically as you go.

Software deployment process

For software startups, soon as your product starts getting users, you need to make sure updates are deployed properly and that everything doesn’t break.

The easiest way to do this — and to train new development hires to do it properly — is with a checklist. Use the template below as it is, or edit it to reflect the current way you do it.

Fundraising process

In the early days, a significant chunk (60-70%) of time will be spent fundraising: scraping together as much money from investors as possible to try and stay afloat.

Generally, this stage can be broken down into two repeatable processes:

  1. Finding investors
  2. Pitching investors

Finding investors who will sit through your pitch is the first hurdle, but should be systemized. At Process Street, we’ve built and documented a semi-automated process using Import.io and AngelList:

Once you’ve got their details, contacting and pitching investors over email is as simple as loading them into your CRM and sending out the emails. Invstor has an insanely detailed guide to that part of the process here, which will differ wildly depending on your startup.

Marketing project and growth hack tracking

Even if you’re not getting enough traffic to run huge experiments with lots of variations, in the early days you’ll be relying on testing a lot of your marketing site — landing pages, copy, images, design — and finding out what works best.

You can use this process below to:

  • Catalog your marketing projects and A/B testing ideas
  • Collaborate with the rest of your team to create marketing material
  • Get reminders on when to check in on the experiments
  • Create an exportable log of every test you run

Get it here:

Recruiting and employee onboarding

In the early stages, many HR processes like employee relations and performance reviews won’t be 100% necessary…

Hiring and onboarding, however, are vital at any stage.

Like finding investors, recruiting is as much marketing as anything. It’s getting together a list, narrowing it down, persuading, etc. In short, it’s something with a lot of different parts to manage, and something that can be condensed and streamlined with a process.

Straight after recruiting, your next step will be onboarding. That’s mostly things like adding the new hire to Slack and Trello, getting them to set up their accounts, and maybe going through mentoring with an existing team member.

Customer support

Customer service and tech support are necessary for all kinds of companies, from tech companies to ecommerce. Good support can make the difference between an up-sell and an angry cancellation, so it’s important to make a process for it to keep it consistent.

At Process Street, we open-sourced our SaaS support process so you can see how we use our own software to offer support:

We also use support duty as a way to teach our team more about our audience and product. To quote myself in an earlier article, here’s the people who should be on support:

  • Engineers built and tested it — they know their shit.
  • Salespeople should have an intimate understanding of the product so they can be at their best
  • when talking to prospects.
  • Marketers also should know the product inside out (along with the target buyers) so they know how to position it.
  • Customer support and customer success should be nothing short of power users. They need to know the answer to every question thrown their way.

How to create the minimum viable processes you know you need

Process are great solutions for managing the growing pains in the early days of your startup, but they’re not one-size-fits-all.

Depending on your tools, team, skills, size, and existing methods, the processes I’ve given you in this article may or may not be exactly right for your business, but they will provide a great starting point.

To suit them to your business, assign team members, record structured data, and transform your startup into a lean, process-driven machine, you can use them inside Process Street instead of treating them like guides.

To close up, I thought I’d share this short account from B2B CFO partner and Entrepreneur columnist Joe Worth about a small tech business he once worked for that documented every single process, no matter how small:

“They even spelled out how to clean and stock the company kitchen. I asked the owner why she’d gone to this level of detail, and she told me, ‘I want to act like the company I want to become.’ On an operational level, it was fantastic. I was able to grab the accounting process book put together by the outgoing controller, and within five minutes I was in business.”

For some, systemization is all-or-nothing. For startups, you still need to start somewhere.