THOMAS GOETZ b LAUNCHPAD
Get Write on It
Carefully documenting processes
and protocols is essential to
grow without chaos.
2. Process. Each company has its own methods; committing these to paper (OK, not actual paper) as style guides and
how-to protocols helps keep your best practices in circulation.
3. Onboarding. You spent months searching for your new
superstar hire. And now you’re gonna give her just a desk and
a computer and expect her to fgure it all out?
4. Customer support. Every business needs to have well-thought-out rules for how to communicate with customers.
Documenting your answers as FAQs and internal support docs
will keep your team consistent, efcient, and on message.
I learned the magic of documentation as a federal contractor when my startup, Iodine, was building OpenFDA for
the Food and Drug Administration. We devised APIs connecting outside developers to FDA data, so the data required
explanation. But we opted to do more than the minimum, and
went to great efort to translate the language of a federal
bureaucracy for an outside audience. The more we explained
the thinking behind the data and what uses it might be put to,
the more people responded. Documentation FTW.
We’ve brought that bias to overexplain and overdocument
into our day-to-day work as well—and yes, there have been
times when it seemed we spent too much time writing planning documents that nobody ever got around to reading. But
that’s a far lesser evil than the lost-in-the-funhouse feeling of
the third meeting spent defning the same project.
There are some outstanding tools that make documentation fairly painless. We’ve used Google Docs, but, in my
experience, which service you choose is less important than
choosing one and sticking with it across the organization.
Unless you really want to be the next Foursquare.
(@tgoetz) is a
Iodine, a digital
based in San
n March 2010, Foursquare was riding
high, one of the coolest social startups
of the day, with gobs of fresh venture
capital and a million people using its
mobile app to check in. And then, on
March 26, the company’s website
went dark. Somebody, it seems, had
forgotten to pay $20 or so to renew
the foursquare.com domain.
Foursquare’s faux pas was quickly
fxed; the bill was paid and the site
went back up. But the blunder serves
as a great example of how important
it is, no matter how busy you are or
how fast your company is growing, to write some things
down. Indeed, it’s during those heady days of startup frenzy
that it’s most essential to make sure important matters
aren’t left in somebody’s inbox or, worse, some former
Write it down. Document your processes and protocols.
Put them on paper. Like many of my favorite startup best
practices, documentation has a long history among software
developers, who are often asked to create documents that
ride along with their software—the ReadMe doc being the
But documentation goes beyond software; it’s good discipline, both for startups right out of the gate and for those
soaring on a high-growth rocket. For the newbies, it’s a way to
inscribe your company’s structures and strictures, to substantiate the frm you want to create. When it’s only two people
in a garage, documentation on core principles and strategies
serves as testimony that this new thing is going to outgrow
this garage someday. For those on the rocket, good documentation fuels your company with fuid communication and
prevents it from being dragged down by cloistered knowledge.
There are four areas where documentation is invaluable:
1. Product development. It’s amazing how rare it is that
smart people scope out the who-when-why-how of a new
product before they get started, given how much time and
frustration two pages of planning can save.