One of the really fun things about working with both start-ups and more established businesses is the contrast – in terms of company stage, funding, decision-making, processes (or lack thereof), culture, attitudes, etc. Most start-ups – including those established by successful and sophisticated “serial entrepreneurs” – have a more carefree and spontaneous character, which in many ways is what allows them to be more creative, adaptable, energetic, responsive and dynamic than more mature companies. These are qualities that you generally want to promote and retain in a start-up. However, it’s also critically important to remember that these qualities – and perhaps more importantly, the behaviors that those qualities sometimes promote – may not be appropriate for all settings, circumstances and audiences.
My purpose with this post is not to stifle or discourage the free-spirited character and spontaneity exhibited by most start-ups. Rather, my point is to emphasize that these qualities aren’t somehow inconsistent with professionalism or a businesslike approach and attitude – especially when a particular audience, event or circumstance demands the latter. Remember, not all third parties that may be important to the success of the start-up business will share or even appreciate some of the more casual qualities of even successful start-ups – especially (and most importantly) in the wrong context.
So what’s my real point here? Know your audience and respond accordingly. You’re not somehow selling out by wearing khakis (or even a suit) to a meeting with your banker, taking the profanity out of your presentation to the Governor or the local economic development agency, or cleaning up the office before a visit by a key prospective investor. Keep in mind, while many like to say how much they admire the idea of start-up businesses (and they usually really do), most of them still work in an environment where casual means “business casual.”