Sometime back we decided to return the rice delivered to us from a leading online grocery store because of poor quality. Over the next week, a person turned up daily insisting that he wanted to pick up cashews (something we had never ordered from this site). 

A fashion store could not offer the shoe size we needed, which was fine. We were amused to receive an email a day later, offering us a different shoe size with a discount thrown in. 

A dishwasher was delivered by a shopping site with the promise of company installation and warranty. The actual installation happened after several weeks of frustrating follow-up because the dishwasher service team was clear that installation had to be done by the online shopping site and online orders were not under warranty.

All of the above issues were eventually rectified, but the process was a pain. 

Process issues are commonplace in companies where the people are unable to work efficiently with the systems or manage information flows properly. 

Unfortunately customers pay the price and consequently the company also suffers. Start-ups suffer the most from such issues because they ignore processes in their early years. 

The founders and the first few employees are busy building products and selling to potential customers. So far so good. 

Where entrepreneurs lose the plot is when they seriously start believing in the mantra that start-ups thrive in chaos. This is true even in well-funded start-ups that are willing to deploy large sums of marketing money to build brand and drive growth but do not spend either time or resources in ensuring that this growth is process-driven. There are a few reasons for such an approach.

Firstly, as start-ups are mostly founded by young entrepreneurs without significant prior exposure to a process-driven company culture, they do not appreciate the benefits of processes and systems. Secondly start-ups have a bias for action and speed. The focus is to somehow get things done fast.

I am a big supporter of getting things done quickly, but not somehow. ‘Somehow’ creates future challenges that are difficult to fix. Thirdly entrepreneurs believe that setting up processes and systems are quite easy and can be done anytime in the future, once the company starts scaling up. While this approach seems practical, the reality is that it is easier to fix systems today than tomorrow, and the day after may be too late anyway.

The temporary counter to poor systems is firefighting. Strangely start-ups love firefighting because this lends itself to their belief system that running helter-skelter from one crisis to another and heaving a sigh of relief after resolving yet another panic situation is fashionable and par for the start-up course. 

Tom Peters’ excellent management book Thriving in Chaos explains how companies can manage constant change and turmoil. 

Most start-ups seem to have taken the book title to heart. It would be useful if they assimilate the contents as well.

(The writer is a serial entrepreneur and best-selling author of the book ‘Failing to Succeed’; posts on X @vaitheek)