The Startup Mercenary

It has been a few months since I have been at Vizury – an online Ad Retargeting company. It’s a small sized company which still operates like a Startup.

When in a startup, a lot of things are noticeably inefficient or not working, but we try to move the needle forward in spite of that. It could be a small set of issues covering all aspects of running a company. It could things like “Washroom smells bad in the evening and maintenance comes only once a day”, “Tea / Coffee is not hot enough”, “Skype is unreliable for discussions involving multiple geos”, “The smoke from the factory nearby sometimes creeps through the windows”, “Our leave management system is managed using a spreadsheet”, “our open source bug tracking system needs some administration support” etc.

Vizury had these issues. While these weren’t necessarily stopping us from doing great work, they were still minor inconveniences.
All of us were aware of these issues, but we couldn’t fix it because
a) We are already neck deep in our regular work.
b) While the solution is readily apparent, it requires lot of these mundane activities like vendor evaluation, contracts, tracking etc. (which is “boring”).

But then, it has been a magical shift in the past 2 months. We hired an administrative head and dumped all our minor and major gripes to him. This person cut across departments and fixed these creaks and cracks.

So all of a sudden the washroom is always clean; The lunch menu has become better; There are sheets covering the terrace to not let the smoke in; we have a dial-in service from cisco which ensure calls go smooth; there is a leave management system; our parking system is streamlined – All of this because, this single person took care of it. He did it by talking to his contacts, bringing in people/ systems he already knew about and sometimes just taking a gut-based decision. And it worked. Phenomenally!!

Such people are highly required in startups. They are “Mercenaries” who come in, do a lot of work – minor or major – in many areas of the company. These might not essentially result in the improvement of the company’s core business, but they have a tremendous impact on employee mood and many hours saved for key employees.

These “Mercenaries” are people who are Jack-of-many-trades and maybe master of some; they don’t look at priority or impact of a problem, but just focus on solving it. They take a small – medium term view of the solution and just take decisions so that the problems are immediately gone. They bring in VISIBLE CHANGES in the company, no matter if small.

Such people might not be effective in a very big company, but at a small-medium scale they are extremely effective. And they make the stressful nature of the job more bearable, which in my opinion, is a huge Value add to every employee.

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