8 signs you are working in an early stage business!

Posted by Brien Keegan

I got off my flight at Wellington airport, walked outside and noticed that most people (corporates in suits) were jumping into the nearest taxi. I, on the other hand, was walking to the other side of the carpark to find my app-based ride.  


It got me thinking, what are some of the key signs that you are a founder of an early-stage business?  I have come up with the eight below from my experience, but feel free to add yours below too.


  1. Getting around. It seems only fitting that I kick off with ‘getting around’.  No corporate taxi cards here, what is the cheapest and most efficient way to get from A to B?  Think e-scooters, Ubers and sharing rides. Every cent saved helps.  

  1. Salary?  In the corporate world, you know what you are going to get paid, every single month.  In start-ups and scale-ups, it’s perhaps more of a case of wait and see how the cash flow is looking, which brings us to #3...  

  1. Cashflow.  I used to work in a large global corporate, but I’m not sure I ever saw a balance sheet or the bank account.  We were mostly focused on setting a specific budget and then chasing or exceeding it. Yes, we used to forecast and look at payment details, but, the cashflow juggle (struggle) is real in an early-stage business.  

  1. Payment alerts.  One of my favourite notifications is when my BNZ app sends me a notification that we have received a payment into the bank.  This helps a lot with #2 and #3. Our record is six minutes after sending out an invoice, to a client paying us. In fact, internally we use this as a measure of how good a job we are doing.  If we get paid quickly or before the due date, we take that as a sign that we are on the right track!  

  1. Work hours and options. I was told numerous times that running your own business would see you working all sorts of hours.  That is correct. However, it also gives you ultimate flexibility. I love that I have been able to get to school sports events, get away to see family and generally have flexibility. I only have myself to blame if I do not make the most of this, which motivates me, even more, to do so.  

  1. Ditching the suit for a t-shirt.  Perhaps initially this was more of a tech company trend, but now all sorts of start-ups have their brand emblazoned across their chest.  I love this, the pride it shows in the business you work for and believe in. I’m not sure why small businesses find it easier to ditch the corporate uniform, especially given that in many cases they’re selling to those larger suit-donning corporates.  One added bonus is…  

  1. When you go to a wedding you now feel REALLY dressed up.  A random one as a start-up founder is that now when I go to a wedding, I feel like I have properly dressed up!  In my previous life of going to work in suits, it was almost an extension of the corporate wardrobe going to a wedding or a special event.  

  2. CEO actually stands for ‘chief everything officer’. I truly believe that if you are running a small business you should be prepared to be exposed to all sorts of things.  You may have to run around to fix problems from IT, suppliers, websites, phones, but then also play the lead salesperson, confident executor, presenter and leader…  It's huge! 

I would love to hear your thoughts and experience on this too.  What things do you do now, running a growth business, that you never did previously?


Brien Keegan is the founder and managing director of Sprout.  If you are interested in talking to him about growing your business through people you can reach Brien on brien@sproutnz.com




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