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One of the greatest adventures in life is working within a start up. The twists and turns across uncertain and unfolding landscape can make a veritable roller coaster. That uncertainty and potential tend to draw a cast of characters as participants. Some are memorable. Here is my list of 7 troublemakers (not all inclusive by any means but these are favorites) that you meet in a start up.
1. Ms. Strategy
This capable, driven, articulate young lady will meet any requests for tactical execution with a discussion of strategy. In a start up, everyone is close to both the strategy and the supporting tactics. Some people can't help themselves from knowing better about either or both. Plus, talking is a lot easier than doing.
2. Mr. Big, Hollow, Pipeline
He made $300k at Cisco before taking this job. Now he has a huge sales pipeline of brand name companies with massive revenue potential and no disciplined approach to characterizing possibility of closing them. Ask him how a 30% likelihood of close defers from a 70% likelihood of close and he will talk about people and conversations rather than steps and actions. I now assume that Cisco pays all failing salespeople $300k.
The ever changing roles and challenges of a growing start up provide an endless set of opportunities to try new jobs and responsibilities. Most people love being stretched and many discover or develop new skills or interests. Not Goldilocks, however, as this individual tends to be too heavy for light work and too light for heavy work. In any other words, no matter what the challenge or organizational needs at hand -- Goldilocks will fail you.
4. The Big Time Scaler
No sense building any system today that won't scale to size of General Motors. Yes, every start up organization has plans and dreams but sometimes you need to sell one house to get another, larger one rather than live in a mostly empty, expensive one along the way.
5. Mr. Artiste - the programmer
He is creating software (sometimes the company's core product/hope of future success) and he isn't limited by the contents of the requirements document. He isn't limited by it because he isn't reading it. He is creating, damn it, and brings his own vision. Definition: Artiste Plus, staying consistent with his vision keeps him closer to his imaginary specification with its imaginary time line (and yes, he's on schedule).
6. The Holiday Maker/Union Rights Leader/Salary Surveyor
Yes, a long title, but its a big job. First, this person will seek the addition of incremental holidays to the company calendar. What no Veteran's Day? We don't get off the week between Christmas and New Year's? Friday before Easter or the Monday after? Well, you get the idea.
This contributor will also "represent" the feelings of employees to management without consulting many of them first. There's no who in this group, its a group of "everybody". So, if you're a company leader and you ask "who" said that, the probable response is that everybody says that. Unless, the question is "who thinks I'm being a jerk about this?" and the Union Leader has a score to settle with someone.
Finally, this person usually investigates and shares salary data for the purpose of fomenting general dissension within the company. This can be useful between two parties or as another representation to management -- "People are unhappy that Sam makes so much" or "People over at comparable start up make more than us". You might ask how do you know this information but the source will be akin to "that's what I'm hearing". It is also fun to say "Do you think Sam is fairly paid or could you do his job?".
7. The Angry Support Person
I can never figure out what makes them, or keeps them angry, but they can be the Energizer Bunny of anger. Maybe the line of work, or being the starting point of a feedback loop for whatever is going wrong with the product or customers, but in any case, the Angry Support Person can create a special kind of crisis. I had one tell a customer to "F#@$k off" and another talk obscenely with a customer (apparently to the delight of the customer but displeasure of co-workers - so maybe not an Angry Support Person in the technical sense).
Ok, there are more that should be on this list, but in the interest of brevity, I'll end it. If you think I left an obvious one off this list -- leave a comment or send me an email.