The Starter Manager Guide

(aka ... the bare minimum you need to know to be an adequate manager)

Introduction

Illustration of a corporation

If you're a new manager in a startup, it's unlikely that you'll have much time to get better.

In startups, things are blowing up all the time. Processes that work in large companies don’t seem to work in smaller ones. And you never quite have enough resources to accomplish all that you desire to do.

In this context, what you’ll want is the smallest possible set of techniques to be an effective manager, so that you may go back to the challenge of growing your startup / becoming a better programmer / growing as a designer / scoring more clients.

And you’ll want a first principles approach to management, so you may think through new processes as you implement them.

This is that guide.

Who is this for?

The Starter Manager Guide is for new managers in startups and organisations between 2—150 people.

If you started out as an individual contributor in your startup — that is, a programmer, designer, marketer, or similar — and now find yourself responsible for other people's output, this guide is for you!

How long will this take?

Illustration of a clock displaying the expected reading time

This guide should take no more than three hours to read from front to back. But if you're putting the ideas into practice, my experience teaching these techniques tell me that an average manager will take six-eight months to gain proficiency with everything within.

Don't let that number scare you, though! You're likely to see results even in the very first week you start practice. The reason is that this guide contains immediately applicable advice designed to put you on the right path.

Every manager has a unique, individual management style; the purpose of this guide is to provide guardrails to make it quicker to find a form that works for you.

Who are you? Why should I listen to you?

My name is Cedric and I ran the engineering office for a Singaporean company called EPOS. My team and I grew the company from 0 to nearly S$4.5 million in annual revenue in two years.

Over the course of my tenure, I got rid of Saturday work days and reduced overtime work by over 90%. Customers stopped yelling at us because we got more effective. I refined our hiring process, installed a transparent compensation system, increased employee retention and eventually trained three managers to replace myself.

And I did all of this in Vietnam, having no prior knowledge of Vietnamese culture or Vietnamese language when I started.

I learnt management with the help of several amazing mentors in Singapore's tech ecosystem. Over time, I began to teach management to a small team of managers I hired to replace me. I realised that in the startup context, you need an understanding of management from a first principles perspective, as the requirements and demands of a growing organisation will change every couple of months.

The first version of this guide was a course I used to train my managers. I want this guide to do for you what my mentors did for me.

1What is the Manager's Job?

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In this chapter, you'll learn a framework for thinking about management. This is the foundation on which you will build your entire management practice.

I understand that you're itching to skip ahead to the techniques. But at some point you'll need to organise all the techniques you'll learn into a cohesive structure. This chapter introduces that structure first, so that you may recognise the gaps when you encounter them later in your career.

2How to Delegate Without Micro-Management

Illustration of two hands passing a baton

Delegation is the most basic of management skills. It is also the first skill you will struggle with!

If you were an effective individual contributor before you became a manager, it is very likely that you'll find delegation challenging to do. Good ICs tend to dislike giving up tasks they excel at.

But a good manager must learn how to delegate effectively. In this chapter, you will learn two important techniques for delegating well.

3How to Train Without Becoming a Bottleneck

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By this point in the guide, you should know that training is necessary for good delegation. As a manager, you must be able to train your team in order to increase your impact. But that's a scary task!

In this chapter, we will cover principles that will help you come up with your very own training system. We'll also cover one productivity hack that will prevent you from turning into the bottleneck of the team.

4How to Prioritise and Regain Your Sanity

Illustration of a calendar exploding

If you've spent even a little bit of time as a manager, you'll probably recognise the challenges of concentrating while on a manager's schedule. When you were an individual contributor, you were rarely interrupted. Now, as manager, you constantly are. How do you deal with an onslaught of interruptions throughout the day?

In this chapter you'll learn the secret of managerial prioritisation. You'll know how good managers constantly evaluate tasks that are shoved onto their plate, and how they maintain effectiveness in the face of an infinite treadmill.

5One-on-Ones: How to Prevent Blowups From Happening

Illustration of two people sitting at a one on one meeting

One-on-one meetings are a special kind of meeting a manager holds with his or her subordinate.

In this chapter, we discuss why running one-on-one meetings are a good idea. I'll also explain the considerations that you should have when adapting one-on-ones to your specific company. Why? Because one-on-one meetings have a huge time cost. We need to talk frankly about that cost if you are to be successful with it.

6Where to Go From Here

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This marks the end of the Starter Manager Guide, but the beginning of your management journey. We'll summarise the ideas in this guide, and discuss some next steps worth considering.