Business startups face many different and complex challenges, and all of them threaten to slow down or break momentum during the challenging initial stages of business development. Luckily there are a variety of approaches, techniques, and tools available in 2023 to help you get started, bust through barriers, and break stalemates. From using services provided by others to adopting process changes that build good habits from within, here are the four biggest blockage-breakers we have used at Opreto in 2022 to keep our business moving forward.
Tool 1: Adopt Opinionated Software Systems
There are many software systems that can help your business grow and succeed; many of these have undergone capitalization and become well-known Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings.
With comparatively small monthly costs, the subscription model used by these services offers a way to quickly deploy and test the various tools and determine their fit. Once you find one, an entire role can be augmented to incredible heights or even automated completely.
Tools come with built-in biases about best practices. In fact, they are designed to embody these; that is the point of tools. Consider the adage: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” and the biases it indicates. A modern analog of this saying is still just as true for modern software systems used by businesses, although it isn’t as immediately evident. What does everything look like when “all you have” are modern professional software tools with domain best practices built into their architecture?
Well, everything looks like a business pain point to be conquered or perhaps a best practice to implement.
Once adopted, this approach to using software tools can only propel your business forward. If you use Google Workspace, then your emails and documents are indexed and searchable by default. If you use Amazon Web Services to host your servers, you get security and uptime best practices built in as a starting point. Suppose you use an Applicant Tracking System like BambooHR or JazzHR for your recruitment. In that case, you automatically begin asking the right questions in interviews and generating the most valuable data because the software determines the shape of the solution.
Even something as prosaic as Microsoft Excel is laden with powerful best practices. If you toss anything into a spreadsheet, you are using a tabular approach to formatting business data that has existed since the dawn of recorded human history. Some of the earliest examples of writing discovered are table(t)s of barley transactions in ancient Mesopotamia (approximately 3400 BCE). So Excel, and other spreadsheet software, are the software codification of the most ancient business data management best practice we know of - formatting data in columns and rows as records. In using Excel, you have channelled directly into this data management and record-keeping method the moment you create a new file.
Newer software in the current generation of tools can help you quickly and easily chart a course towards even more specific best practices without fumbling around first. Use this to jumpstart your progress and propel you forward. Let the software lead the way, and keep trying new ones as they emerge.
A commonly deployed trio of SaaS in 2022 is the following:
- Google Workplace or Microsoft 365 for email, document editing, storage, and sharing;
- Quickbooks Online for accounting;
- and an Applicant Tracking System and HR Information System (e.g.: JazzHR, BambooHR) for recruitment and HR management.
At Opreto, we have gone beyond this base deployment, and have used the following SaaS tools:
- Ownr.co for incorporation and shareholding management;
- Miro for collaboratively brainstorming projects visually;
- Calendly and Reclaim to set appointments and flexibly reschedule work sprints around them;
- Grammarly to ensure professional communication;
- and various creative AI tools. More on that in the next section.
In each case, we dodged the necessity and complexity of hiring lawyers, administrative assistants, editors, or creative designers for small one-off projects and tasks now deliverable as SaaS offerings. We have found these software tools to be indispensable and even rocket fuel for us, containing and enforcing all the relevant best practices and allowing us to focus our energy on other priorities.
Tool 2: Use AI to Break Through Creative Blocks
AI is quickly proving to be a powerful tool for a startup, and this is going to be a trend that gathers steam throughout 2023 because there are tools for an increasing number of generative tasks - copywriting and image creation among them - that can jog your brain and jumpstart the creative process. Whether you ultimately keep the generated product of the AI or use it as scaffolding and inspiration for your own work, it can start the blinking cursor moving. This creative kickstart is more valuable than the quality of what it produces if it gets your own words and works flowing.
At Opreto, we have used Jasper.ai to break through writer’s block when creating copy for our website content, blog posts, project proposals, and email communications or anything that needs typed lines of text. Professional communication has a way of stripping most of the fun out of starting it, so sometimes the words just won’t come on their own. Jasper can kickstart a message and, once you’ve gotten started, it’s easy to finish the job with your own words set to that melody.
The most exciting things happening in 2022-23 are not the text-generation AI services but the ones that generate images. Usage of image generation AI has exploded in popularity in the last year, and there are some intriguing use cases for it:
- Architects are generating architectural design concept renderings with Dall·e 2 (and then designing the blueprints for them).
- Independent news reporters (like the Platformer’s Casey Newton) can illustrate with the same tool, saving them the overhead of engaging a graphic designer on their compact team.
- Companies are using Dall·e 2 and Midjourney to create compelling and eye-catching visual designs for their marketing material.
At Opreto, we are still in the early stages of using these tools, but it has already proven helpful in many ways to break through creative design blocks, prompt the right conversations, and move us in the right direction.
Tool 3: Bring In Outside Eyes
To break stalemates or disagreements between business partners, bringing in an outside expert can sometimes be the most valuable thing you can spend money on as a business. If a startup has multiple founders, you should expect to have disagreements about how things should be done from time to time. The first line of defense is an internal process for achieving consensus and resolutions, but engaging an outsider can add tremendous value in cases where no agreement may be easily reached. The benefit of employing an expert consultant or external team goes beyond the expertise and experience they bring to the table. They can act as a way to break close ties and serve as an external focus for mediated and informed debate among the executive team. They act as consensus generators that can get the critical decision-makers onto the same page and, moving forward, freed from the stuttering starts of anemic consensus. For this reason, they are worth far more than the advice they give.
At Opreto, we have engaged outside specialist designers in addition to the more traditional accountants and lawyers. We have worked with an outside sales architect with excellent skills to develop the sales strategy there. Even in cases where some of the competencies we hired externally were already held by one of the partners, it helped establish a clear path forward that every partner could vote for with confidence and ease. It is often nearly impossible to get the same results organically on every topic within any organization, as each partner can have powerful visions about how something should go (and only sometimes in alignment with each other). Engaging an outside expert has saved us energy and sometimes the potential for discord and tension. But, most importantly, it has saved us time spent dawdling in a lukewarm state of semi-agreement.
Bringing someone in to witness your progress creates a sense of immediate and personal accountability. This approach undoubtedly levers some primitive parts of the mammalian brain and is tremendously effective. That is why most humans work in offices, why coworking spaces exist when there is no office for them to go to, and why effective virtual coworking can often be quite challenging to accomplish in fully remote workplaces.
At Opreto, we have leveraged a set of tools to foster a more profound sense of shared presence in remote and virtual coworking, from crowding around a virtual boardroom table in a virtual office in Kumospace, to making decisions with the rich visual framework of Loomio, to team-building “virtual retreats” into the rich worlds supplied by cooperative video games like Deep Rock Galactic. These tools strengthen our company’s internal social ties, promote pairing up on problems, and augment accountability and focus in healthy and sustainable ways.
But sometimes the best thing you can do to boost your productivity is to involve a supportive impartial person, either as a contracted consultant or even on a more personal basis with a service like Focusmate - a SaaS tool several people at Opreto have used to pair with a remote peer to declare their work goals (and then debrief with them afterward). This process of voluntary auditing by a neutral third party has proven helpful on multiple occasions for some of us, encouraging individuals to break through resistance and take necessary steps forward when nothing else has worked.
Whether you’re hiring the traditional set of business consultants, going into new territory like Upwork to find other niche specialists, or working directly with an accountability partner, bringing in an outsider can be the thing you need to make progress.
Adopt Agile Methodology and Techniques
But in our estimation, the most valuable tool to keep your company moving forward is adopting agile development habits. The processes and techniques promoted by the approach are one of the biggest reasons why agile software development has blossomed over the past few decades; it has enjoyed success from its continuous and dependable advancement of critical software so often at the heart of modern businesses. Built into the agile process are timeboxed repeating sessions emphasizing revisiting and pushing forward the business goals they represent. The agile approach establishes a known cadence, emphasizes constant practicing of the habits of diligence and review, and creates accountability and a trajectory for ongoing continued development.
At Opreto, we perform all business activities according to the same structure of sprints we use in the software development projects we deliver. We use Jira to track business development tasks as tickets, populating kanban boards with complex business goals broken down into smaller achievable targets. We use Agile sprint planning sessions to start a two-week session (the “sprint”), and we review the outcomes in an Agile retrospective session at the end to assess the work and plan further next steps that continue to build on our business goals. This application of Agile methods isn’t merely dogfooding; it keeps our momentum and focus at peak levels, just as the Agile process is designed to do.
This supercharged business productivity is why we don’t think you should be adopting agile software development practices for just your software teams; it makes so much sense as a paradigm and set of tools that we practice and promote it everywhere we can.
So which tool will you use?
Whether you need good software tools or an outside expert (or AI) to come in and shake some obstructions loose, there are approaches and options available to business startups in 2023 to kickstart themselves into gear. The four discussed above are the ones we have found the most important to our growth as a company at Opreto, and they are the things you can use to get (or keep) your own business moving forward when things threaten to bog down.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how we’re using the software tools and approaches discussed in this blog post. Have you tried any of them? How have they been working for you? Have you had any success or challenges with them? Any tips and tricks that you’ve found useful when using these tools or approaches? Please share your comments below! We look forward to hearing from you.
And good luck in 2023!