Why you should avoid shortcuts and automation when building a startup

It’s a truism to say efficiency is key to the progress of any business, especially during periods of high growth.

One way businesses maximise efficiency is by building systems and processes that can be automated as much as possible and certainly there are many apps out there that help businesses automate tasks in various areas like email marketing, bookkeeping, payroll and so forth.

But if you’re an entrepreneur armed with nothing but a great idea, there’s one thing you should avoid in the early stages: automation.

Why? The short answer is you run the risk of automating an imperfect or ineffective system – that is, a system or process that doesn’t achieve desired outcomes in a resource-efficient manner, if at all.

Whether you’re looking to automate business processes to increase efficiency internally, or you have a product that automates a certain activity or process for customers, the best approach in the early stages of your startup’s lifecycle is to keep everything manual.

Automation is best implemented after you’ve found a strong product-market fit and your startup is ready to scale.

Automation is “the use of machines, control systems and information technologies to optimize productivity in the production of goods and delivery of services”.

If you’re finding yourself repeating certain tasks that eat away at your productivity or slow down the company’s growth, it’s certainly worth thinking about automation but only if you’re intimately familiar with your processes and have optimised them as much as possible without technological intervention.

The key point here is before you can be efficient, you need to be effective. Does your process achieve your desired outcome?

If it does, it’s time to think about maximising efficiency.

Bill Gates once said: “The first rule of any technology in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency.” But he followed this up with, “automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency”.

It’s just as important to identify tasks that are being performed inefficiently as it is to identify tasks that need to be repeated and automated.

To identify inefficiencies within your business, you will first need to write down every step you take when performing a task and all the tasks you perform to complete a process. Then analyse whether any of the steps you take when performing a task can be automated or delegated.

A process is generally inefficient if it’s unnecessarily resource-heavy, has a high error rate or uses up bandwidth that can be spent more wisely in other areas such as growth.

Let’s use social media as an example. Say you’re a fintech startup and have decided to use social media to expose your app to new customers or you’re looking to build your presence and credibility online via social media. Your social media management process will probably go something like this:

  • Step 1: Choose a platform (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.);
  • Step 2: Decide how frequently you’re going to post content on that platform (e.g. every six hours or four times a day);
  • Step 3: Curate content that you’re going to share on the platform (e.g. relevant industry articles) or the content that you’re going to post on that platform (e.g. opinions, promotions, etc.);
  • Step 4: Schedule content so that it is posted at specific times;
  • Step 5: Engage with other people on that platform to build relationships.

Which of these steps can be automated?

Thanks to tools like Drumup.io, Right Relevance and Buffer, steps 2, 3 and 4 can be automated easily.

Buffer allows you to schedule posts across multiple social media platforms. Right Relevance allows you to find content relevant to you based on topics and either instantly share or schedule for later via Buffer.

You can also identify the right influencers to follow on Twitter and see what discussions are trending. Drumup.io allows you to do most of the above.

If you provide some information like the hashtags you’re interested in and the blogs you follow, it will create high quality tweets and posts for you and you can just schedule them with very little effort.

What would’ve taken an hour or two will now only occupy a few minutes of your day.

As your company grows, new systems and processes will be introduced and automation will become more and more prevalent. But in the initial stages, until you have a full understanding of how everything in your business works, keep it all manual.

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