Q: What Are Critical Tasks In A Startup?

Q: What is the target allocation for each of these critical tasks in a successful startup? Here is my list of critical tasks in a startup and a percentage allocation:

  • Planning 10%
  • Execution 50% 
  • Ideation 20% 
  • Talking to Potential Customers 15% 
  • Recruiting 5%

What Is The Real Decision?

Can you clarify :

  • At what stage of company?
  • What time frame are the percentages averaged over?
  • Is this just for the founders or total effort of all team members?
  • What is the distinction between ideation and planning?  Can you please elaborate on this?

How would you use or apply any answer that you get?  In other words, what is the real decision you are trying to make?

Don’t Forget Retrospectives

One category of task that is missing is “after action” or “lessons learned” or “post project assessment” or retrospective.

If execution is 50% then 10% on planning/ideation and 5% on retrospective seems about the right balance. That would leave 30% for talking to potential customers (i.e. sales and marketing)  and 5% on recruiting (construed broadly to include finding partners, suppliers, channels as well as contractors and employees).

And Talking to Current Customers

But this also leaves out talking to current customers (not just potential customers) which can be very different conversations.

I would split execution into somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 talking with customers (includes support, training, joint planning, etc..)  and 2/3 to 1/2 “execution.”

Critical Tasks In A Startup

So that means:

  • “Execution” 25-35% (totals to 50% with “talking to current customers”)
  • Talking to Current Customers 15-25% (totals to 50% with execution)
  • Talking to Potential  Customers 30%
  • Planning/Ideation 10%
  • Retrospectives (“learning from mistakes)  5%
  • “Recruiting” (employers, contractors, partners, channel, supplier) 5%

How to Apply to Avoid Failures

  • Not Enough Time Spent on Customer Discovery: One typical failure mode in the early stages is not enough time is allocated to talking to potential customers so if you are not spending at least 20-30% of team time on this you may not succeed.
  • Premature execution / Not enough planning: if you start trying to “execute” immediately with a working consensus on the team you will probably have problems. If you are spending more than 10% of your time on a monthly basis planning or trying to reach a working consensus then either folks cannot compromise or want to live in the world of ideas
  • Not Talking To Customers: once you have customers if you don’t spend at least 1/6 to 1/3 of your time on their ongoing success and satisfaction you are likely to face not only churn issues but also competitors may be learning faster than you are.
  • No Looking Back: if you don’t allocate any time to after-action or retrospective analysis then you may never learn from failures (or successes) and again your competitors may be learning faster than you are.
  • No Effort to Scale (Beyond Working Harder): once you start to have customers you need to spend some time on “recruiting” partners, contractors, employees, suppliers or your original team will  either hire or work with people that they already know and become insular and stale or simply run out of bandwidth

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