The Unseen Advantage: The Power of Process in Building a Scalable Tech Startup

"If you want to be successful, focus on the process, not the outcome." — Anthony Moore

Starting a business is like going on a self-discovery adventure, and with this thrill comes chaos. Startups are inherently chaotic, notorious for compressed problems, urgent decisions and an ever-present sense of disarray. Still, understanding this is fundamental for success. As a founder, if you can’t manage chaos and uncertainty, if you can’t bias yourself for action and wait for someone else to tell you what to do, then your investors and competitors will make your decisions for you. You are likely to run out of money, and eventually shut down the company. 

Therefore, the best way to keep your company alive is to instil in every employee a decisive mindset that can quickly separate the crucial from the irrelevant, synthesize the output, and use this intelligence to create islands of order for your startup. This is known as Process—a silent orchestrator shaping the trajectory from zero to scale. Process, often obscured by the allure of disruptive ideas, emerges as the unseen advantage, guiding startups through the exciting growth journey.

In the beginning, your team is your business. All you have is an idea and a small team that believes in that idea. Your team members are highly comfortable with entropy. They are also incredibly flexible, able to pivot quickly, and willing to fulfil different roles - whatever their title.  As the team grows, the culture changes, which brings more uncertainty, knowledge silos and inefficient workflows. More people are handling responsibilities, and there is a need to set a structure for clarity and consistency among the team.

Like a human being, a company must have an internal nervous system to coordinate its actions regardless of size or growth stage. All businesses focus on a few basic elements: customers, products and services, revenues, costs, competitors, delivery and employees. A company has to carry out and coordinate the business processes in each area, especially activities that cross department lines. Sales need to determine whether the company has the inventory or can get it quickly before promising a big delivery order. Engineering must understand customer feedback on the recent product launch to shift priorities. Every business, regardless of industry, has autonomic systems, and the operations have to go on if the company is to survive. This is where your process becomes increasingly complex yet imperative.

In my work with startups on implementing business processes, two concerns frequently arise: "Won't processes bog us down in bureaucracy?" and "Let's focus on product-market fit first, then worry about processes later." While these are valid perspectives, it's important to remember that even without documented processes, your business already has one—an undefined, free-for-all approach. This can be disastrous when things get hectic.

A company needs good business reflexes to marshal its forces in a crisis or respond to unplanned events.  More than anything,  a company has to communicate with its customers and act on what it learns from that communication. This primary need involves a company’s capabilities—operational efficiency and data gathering, reflexive reach and coordination, and strategic planning and execution—all of which are embedded in the nervous system of the business. This business system serves one primary function: it seeks to create corporate excellence out of individual excellence on behalf of the customer.

How, then, can a startup implement and maintain an effective process? 

Every business relies on two core functions, like a heartbeat and breathing, to stay alive.

The first function is its core value proposition. This is the reason the business exists. For a Fintech company, it is the technology that powers the financial services. For e-commerce, it is the buying and selling process. Just like a strong heartbeat, this function must be efficient and reliable.

The second function is administrative processes. These essential tasks keep the business running smoothly, like paying bills, receiving payments, and managing payroll. They're like breathing—invisible but critical. 

To ensure smooth operation, it's vital to map these processes. Define key points: who handles what, what the business strategy is behind them, and how to respond to crises. Additionally, consider how these processes impact stakeholder perception. By streamlining them and delivering a positive experience, you can build stronger relationships.

Also, technology must be used to understand the inner workings of these processes and make them more efficient and responsive to changing circumstances. As a tech startup, chances are your company has a sizable investment in technology and is realising less than 20% of its potential benefits. With technology embedded into your business process, your team can easily analyse real-time performance trends and make effective decisions. Beyond this, the flexibility in technology process control systems allows businesses to adapt to ever-changing customer needs while maintaining their core principles. 

Most importantly, do not overwhelm your team with a process overhaul; you risk stalling progress. Instead, focus on a gradual rollout. Break down complex processes into smaller, manageable tasks. Assign ownership to specific teams, integrating these tasks into performance metrics. This shift empowers employees to see themselves not as cogs in a machine but as vital contributors to the bigger picture.

In today's competitive landscape, differentiation is key. The winners will be those who excel across the board: crafting exceptional products, incorporating customer insights for continuous improvement, and developing clever marketing and distribution strategies.  Fortunately, these information-rich processes are all fuelled by a robust technology-backed business system. This empowers your startup not only to compete but to thrive truly.

I would like to leave you this quote that has impacted the way I think about what I do.

"Ordinary people focus on the outcome, extraordinary people focus on the process." —  Bryan Cranston
Matthew Akano
Matthew Akano