Strategic Planning for Startups

Arteen Arabshahi


You should start grounded

A company must first establish the mission, vision and culture before they make their first hire.  A common mistake for both partnerships and startup businesses is not having these standards mapped out, identifying the essence of the ora they are trying to create.  Hiring first will cause some hurdles and backpedaling to get everyone on board, which is way harder.

Founders can have slightly different opinions on where they want to take the company, but they need to strike a compromise and agreement and be consistent when communicating the mission, vision and culture on a company level.  A very common issue we run into is unparallel expectations among founders.  For example, if they want to sell the company, what they will sell the it for, or if they plan to IPO someday, etc. Founders really need to have an understanding on this right from the get-go as it creates a lot of dissonance when they receive an acquisition offer or even a funding offer for that matter.

You want to win the race, but need to focus on getting to the next ‘time extension’ point

I am a strong advocate of the 3 month, 1 year, 3 year strategic planning framework or variations of it and have seen that it is beneficial for startups to use this model.  However, for early-stage startups, we have garnered more success using a 3 month plan with short term milestones. One key difference between an early-stage startup and a mature corporation is that an early-stage startup is unlikely to have established strong product-market fit and has a more fluid business plan.  With that in mind, more progressed companies need to be open to changing the 1 year and 3 year plan and revisit or revise strategies on a regular basis.  Taking the time to reevaluate the 1 year and 3 year plan is something that startups and their boards don’t do often enough.

I thought we had someone covering this job

A big part of strategic planning that startups often neglect is figuring out staffing needs based on the business plan in advance and being proactive with onboarding staff that is needed regularly.  Many startups rely on “just-in-time” hiring strategies but what they don’t realize is that this causes the machine to stop or slow down and with growth as your main goal, this is not a good position to be in.

The other aspect to strategic planning on a HR front is to figure out who is responsible for what.  I totally understand that people at startups need to be a jack of all trades at times and pick up whatever work that needs to be done.  I am not saying that a person should not have multiple roles, but you still need to be clear on who is ultimately responsible.  A startup has very little ‘fat’ compared to a large organization (or at least that should be the case) and when accountabilities are lost, there will be a huge impact on the startup.

Founders need to recognize their own capabilities from Day 1

At a certain point in the lifecycle of the business, the founders no longer need to be responsible for wearing multiple hats. Typically somewhere between the year 1 and 3, the founders become more of delegators than executors. This means they are hiring a Head of Sales and a Head of Marketing, etc. This is also the time when it’s valuable for founders to know their own strengths. For example, a CEO of a sub-20 person startup often needs a much different skill set than a 20-100 person company or a 100+ person business. Being self aware of that helps founders grow their businesses. Alternatively, as companies scale, it allows founders to narrow their focus on what they do best. It’s important to be self aware of these factors before scaling, though, so the core values of the business and other sensitivities aren’t compromised during transition points.


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Arteen Arabshahi