Technical debt is a common issue in the start-up ecosystem, and it has been well discussed. When scaling your product and engineering, sacrifices must be made for the sake of speed, but they almost always cause problems later. What most start-ups fail to realize is that this problem occurs in almost every aspect and form of business practice.
Rand Fishkin uses a story to illustrate this point. A man named Heaton sees a job ad on a website that looks perfect for his skill set. He applies and, 4 days later, gets an email asking to talk over the phone. The hiring manager loves Heaton and emails him 2 days later inviting him to meet with the whole team. 10 days later, Heaton meets for a full interview and is introduced to 4 of the 6 other teammates. The other 2 are out, so Heaton is scheduled to come back 3 days later. When he comes in, he gets a written offer.
Unfortunately, Heaton had interviewed at a big corporation the day after he had applied for this opportunity with a start-up. They immediately sent him an offer with plenty of time to consider. On the last day he was allowed by this offer, Heaton accepted. This day happened to be the day before he was offered a job with the start-up, which Heaton would have preferred to work at. Heaton assumes any company that takes 23 days to get back in touch for an important position already has too many issues anyhow.
In reality, they are hiring because they have a huge issue. There’s no HR or hiring function, so they had to ask the CEO to make the hire, in addition to an already difficult future. Most in this position haven’t had to fire before, so they may not realize how important it is to be fast with responses when hiring. Also, each individual only feels like they’re taking a couple days with their responses. But these few days individually add up quickly, which led to Heaton’s problems.
Only after losing Heaton does the start-up realize it has this issue and tries to solve it.
Problems like technical debt happen in every aspect of business where a start-up can take a shortcut. Not every problem goes unaddressed or scales badly, but enough issues do create an inflection point that costs money.
If you are a start-up or are joining one, be ready for these types of problems. It is always difficult to try to fix problems once you are already moving, but you will have to. Also, if you are interested in a start-up from the outside, empathize with their problems and know they may not be as messed up as it appears. They may just be dealing with start-up debt.