How Southeast Asian Start-ups Can Succeed By Writing Things Down
Having documentation early in the start-up game allows founders to instill best practices
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Congratulations, you finally have your company up and running.
Most days will leave you feeling tired, yet fulfilled. Truth be told, it’s easy to get caught up in the whole start-up frenzy, needing to attend to so many different things at once with rarely enough time to pause and reflect on your next steps.
However, it is crucial for any start-up founder to stop and think about writing down processes and protocols early on in the journey. This will save you time and resources in the future, not to mention keeping your company’s best practices in circulation.
Thomas Goetz, CEO and co-founder of U.S.-based healthcare company Iodine, advocates good documentation in his Inc. article, saying that the practice has a long history among software developers who are often asked to create documents in conjunction with their software.
“But documentation goes beyond software; it’s good discipline, both for start-ups right out of the gate and for those soaring on a high-growth rocket,” Goetz writes. “For the newbies, it’s a way to inscribe your company’s structures and strictures, to substantiate the firm you want to create.”
Blueprint for growth
So what exactly should you document? For Goetz, documentation on core principles and strategies can serve as a blueprint for the company’s growth someday. Or for those on a rapid growth trajectory, it is a way to fuel the company with fluid communication and “prevent it from being dragged down by cloistered knowledge.”
He cites four areas where documentation is invaluable: product development; creation of style guides or how-to’s for the different functions of the company; onboarding of new hires; and customer support, perhaps in the form of FAQs, because every business needs to have rules on how to communicate with customers.
Erik Cheong, co-founder of Singapore-based delivery service for online shoppers Park N Parcel, believes in the importance of proper documentation of processes and protocols right from the beginning.
“With good documentation in place, processes will be more efficient and effective, [such as] in the transition of work when there is a new team member,” Cheong says.
He adds that documentation in product or service development, hiring, and customer relations will be “handy and applicable” for fund-raising and joining accelerator or incubation programs.
Alden Leong Qi Wen, co-founder of VAV, a sound media company based in Malaysia, agrees. The “extremely hard” process of documentation can be worthwhile, he says, especially if the start-up is looking to scale and duplicate its business in other countries.
“This blueprint of the company is what will help investors have confidence in your start-up…and it all boils down to your ability to document, and document well,” Leong says.
He considers documentation a “priceless asset to the company,” so much so that whenever he coaches an employee, he does a briefing followed by a step-by-step document explaining how to perform a particular task.
Leong says this will help minimize pitfalls as a result of poor documentation, such as the employee not doing the task at all because he or she does not know how it’s done or doing it haphazardly.
“Both are unpleasant to founders as it will be up to us to clean up the mess,” Leong says, “but often employees will be stuck asking around how to perform the task, and wasting precious time.”
However, Luis Buenaventura, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Manila-based bitcoin remittance service Bloom Solutions, cautions against doing it too early in the game. He recommends doing the “absolute minimum documentation necessary to get the job done, especially during the first year in a start-up’s life.”
“Things like business processes change so much during the early days that most of your documentation will be obsolete within a few months anyway, and your team isn’t big enough yet to benefit from the formal knowledge-sharing,” Buenaventura says. “That said, it’s good to start forming the discipline early on, so that you can train new hires in a more scalable way. Just don’t start too early.”
Pick the right tools
To make the process painless, there are a lot of tools out there that start-ups can readily use. At the moment, Buenaventura says shared Google Drive folders and Asana seem to do the trick for their company.
Leong prefers to use PowerPoint because it gives him the flexibility to insert pictures or screenshots, while inserting comments and detailed instructions. “It’s simple and easy for everyone to update and edit,” he says, adding that documents should be easy to understand without much face-to-face communication.
For Cheong and his team, Github and Swagger do well in terms of software development documentation. But for other areas like product development and customer relations, the team uses Google Docs and Dropbox.
“There are too many documentation platforms out in the market,” Cheong says. “As new start-ups, they should stay focused on what’s familiar and choose the tools that work best with their framework.”