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Start lean, multi-task before delegating

In a start-up, an entrepreneur needs to be fully involved, but experts feel assigning work also saves costs.

business Updated: Aug 16, 2012 00:44 IST
HT Correspondent

Last year, when Shailen Amin, co-founder and CEO of shoe wear e-commerce portal bestylish.com, launched his venture, he imagined that hiring someone with a basic understanding of warehousing would suffice his fledgling venture’s supply-chain requirements. He couldn’t have been more off the mark.

“The problem is that supply chain management for e-commerce is still in its infancy as e-commerce itself is taking baby steps here,” he recalls. “So, I had to personally get involved with the warehousing needs for our portal — down to the details like how racking should be done, the distance between the racks, the labelling, etc.”

That incident, observes Amin, highlights the pitfalls of delegating too early and too much. "In a start-up, you are still working out the job descriptions, so it’s very difficult in the early stages of a start-up to delegate." http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/8/16-08-biz8.jpg

There is, of course, a distinction between delegation of work from entrepreneur to employee and delegation among co-founders. For instance, at advertising agency Bang In The Middle, led by former chief creative officer of iYogi, Prathap Suthan, the co-founders — Naresh Gupta, who handles planning, Viral Pandya, who takes care of designing, Manoj Deb, who’s the art director and Sabu Paul, who’s incharge of copy — can inter-change their tasks with ease.

“If I am unavailable, Naresh is there,” said Suthan. “If he isn’t there, Viral is there. If Viral is busy, Manoj comes in. And if he isn’t there Sabu takes over. All of us are senior enough to talk both strategy and creative. And there will be no loss of quality.”

There is of course a pragmatic reason as to why delegation in a start-up can be a sticky affair — not much revenue to afford an extra pair of hands. Besides, an entrepreneur has to be willing to do everything himself, which will help him in learning the nitty-gritty of the operations, before delegating.

But as an entrepreneur can risk the play of too much delegation, it can also offer some benefits in a start-up, feels Manmohan Agarwal, CEO, Big Shoe Bazaar India, owner of Yebhi.com, another e-commerce portal.

“In a start-up, one has to delegate in order to save costs,” said Agarwal. “While there is a risk, it is mostly limited to how the idea or the assignment has passed down to the juniors.”

Agarwal further adds that delegation could also mean multi-tasking — with each individual saddled with more than one competency, which can help trim costs and overheads.

As against large, established organisations where tasks are clearly defined at each level in the hierarchy, a start-up represents a fluid and dynamic work environment where task definitions can often be nebulous. It thus becomes imperative for an entrepreneur to stress to his staff how the task is to be performed and when it is due, says Agarwal. “The communication has to be crystal clear and there should be constant monitoring.”

Of course, as Avinash Gupta, leader, financial advisory, Deloitte points out, there’s also the issue of a low headcount in a start-up, that sometimes, leads the entrepreneur himself to a quasi-comical conundrum if he were to contemplate delegation. “Who will he delegate to?,” quips Gupta.

Moreover, he adds, delegating too early may actually work to the disadvantage of the entrepreneur, preventing him from availing an opportunity to know the ropes — essential if the entrepreneur wants to sustain his business beyond just registering the domain name. “In a start-up kind of scenario the entrepreneur himself is still to be tested,” observes Gupta. “So it makes sense to be fully involved. Even investors who come in will feel confident in his business, if the entrepreneur is hands-on and fully aware of the various aspects of his business.”

Suthan, however, adds a word of caution for entrepreneurs to beware falling into the trap of micro-management, advising that the routine or the mundane work load can be shared.

“The trick is choosing the jobs that you’d want to do and lead with,” he said. “There will be jobs that don’t need your expertise. Don’t waste your time on things that are run of the mill. You don’t need heavy artillery to fight puny ants.”