Startup Scaling: Context is King


As the founder of a company, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume your team knows what you know...

It’s quite easy to fall into this trap. You, of course, are aware of what you know and that knowledge drives your decision-­making. You know the company’s financial position… You know the competitive landscape… You know what the company’s board of directors thinks… As a founder, you’re naturally privy to more information about your company than your team members. You’re present in certain meetings and exposed to specific documents and conversations they may not be.

Forget the Mind-Readers: Share Your Thoughts!

If you want your team to be working from a similar frame of reference as you when making their own strategic decisions, you need to recognize that information gap and try to bridge it.

If you think your team members should know something you know too; tell them. Don’t assume it will happen by magic.

Let’s get introspective…

What about your internal thoughts?

What about those ideas that aren’t sourced from documents or board meetings or anything else but simply swirling around in your head?

You can’t expect your team to become mind-readers. Only you know your own emotions.

Whether you’re happy about someone’s performance, disappointed about a certain product feature, nervous about a competitor or confident about a potential recruit… you’re keenly aware of these emotions.

So how can your team know that too?

Keep communicating…consistency is key

Be Consistent

Let’s get introspective. Think about a scenario­ where you mention to a teammate you’re concerned about their poor performance.

Afterwards, you notice they step up to the plate and begin rapidly improving. You feel excited and relieved that happens. Great! In your mind, this is no longer something to worry about, problem solved.

Except that the other person may still be unaware of how you feel. For all they know, you’re still quietly brooding about their performance. This lack of communication causes fear and concern in your teammate, even though you’re pleased.

Don’t fall into this trap! It’s important to keep the feedback loop going. The answer? Constant, consistent communication.

Information asymmetry can be crippling to a business

Support Information Flow

Information asymmetry can be crippling at any stage of your company. That being said, it really starts to get ugly when your company reaches 20-­30 people.

Unless explicit efforts aren’t made to improve information flow, problems often crop up. Teams may begin to feel like they’re working against each other instead of together because they’re unaware of what the other is doing.

Efficiency is lost when people are constantly trying to coordinate with each other and get themselves on the same page, often in unorganized and fragmented ways.

That means it becomes untenable for everyone on the team to know everything that’s being worked on across the company. It gets harder for certain team members to stay up-to-date and aware of the workings of other teams. Now you have to factor in new people joining the team. They’re starting with a blank canvas when it comes to the accumulated stock of institutional knowledge.

Clear and consistent communication helps alleviate worry

Information = Decisions

Once you reach this stage, you may be shocked to find out all the things you’re aware of that your teammates are not. You may also realize how much it worries them.

As your team grows, more team members will know less about your company. Here’s the trap: they’ll think they don’t know because you don’t want them to know. Here’s the good news: that’s only natural.­

It doesn’t mean your company is horrible or doomed to fail but it does mean you need to rectify that information asymmetry to improve team trust and encourage more informed decision-­making.

Ask more questions!

Find Your Top Ten

Think of ten questions you believe everyone in your company should be able to answer. For example, it could be about your company’s values, goals, roadmap, etc.

Start by asking yourself questions to figure out which ones are the most important to your business.

For example, it could be:

“How would you describe our company’s mission?”

It could also be: “What’s our main company-wide goal for this year?” How about: “What are the most important things being worked on from our product roadmap right now?

If I were a betting man, I’d wager that if you put those questions to everyone on your team right now, you wouldn’t even find 50% of the responses satisfactory.

So what can you do about it? Well, it’s your responsibility to ensure there’s better communication of important information across your company. Don’t assume your teammates will be reading and remembering — then re-­reading — every message or memo you’ve ever written!

Set the Tone

As a founder, you need to explicitly set the tone for an information rich and transparent culture at your company. It doesn’t happen organically, so don’t twiddle your thumbs and wait for it to happen.

Have more frequent small meetings

At Kinnek, we’ve implemented many strategies to improve the information flow across the company.

We have more frequent 1:1 meetings between managers and the founders as well as between managers and their direct reports. We have a weekly all-hands team meeting that lets us air major issues. It also gives our team (including me) a platform to share what we’re personally excited/worried/pleased about.

Responsible Communication

At that meeting, we ask team leads to present a slide about progress being made by their respective teams so everyone is aware of the work being done across the entire organization. We hold presenters accountable for knowing what’s happening and sharing the most information aspects of their team’s work with the company.

We’ve also begun collecting anonymous questions and concerns from the entire team. We address those every week in an open forum.­ That way people feel like their concerns and questions can be heard without the possibility of feeling embarrassed about not knowing something.

Share your wavelength!

Share your Frequency

I’ll leave you with a final suggestion­. Don’t ever assume people are on the same wavelength as you.

In fact, do the opposite. Assume they’re not, then do all you can to get them on the same wavelength.

A wise CEO of a much larger tech company once told me, “I like to make sure everyone at my company has the same information context as I do, then I hire the most awesome people who can make the right decisions given that context.”

Pretty sound advice, if you ask me.

Thanks to Josh Hannah, General Partner at Matrix Partners and investor in Kinnek, for his thoughts on this post.

Ask me a question!

Karthik Sridharan is co-founder & CEO of Kinnek.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he was formerly a Researcher at AQR Capital Management.

His mission is is to build a marketplace that supports small businesses with their purchasing and supplier relationships. Join our team today.

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