Hero: The Startup Process Model

Virtually every organization initially leverages the same process to get off the ground. The process is simple:


Find people with passion, motivation, years of experience, and strong intuitive insights and give them the autonomy and the resources to succeed. We call this process Hero.

Hero frequently is the only process small organizations ever use, and its rallying cry is “No Rules!” The leader’s role in Hero is primarily to provide the funding and goals and get out of the way.

Heroes are iconic in the United States. We love heroes.

Heroes are willing to make snap decisions and judgments; they aren’t constrained by policies, checklists, or red tape. They are mavericks—independent, principled, brilliant, courageous, and tenacious. Driven by their own internal moral compasses and their own force of will, they are deeply celebrated when they succeed.

Who do you want to rescue you if the bad guys are holding you hostage? Batman, Bond, or Buffy. Not some House committee on hostage rescue! These heroes win, and they are willing to bend a few rules along the way. Success matters most. Rules are, at best, suggestions.

What does the Hero process usually look like? A group of experts works collaboratively in a small space with the autonomy and resources needed for their success. They are co-located, dedicated, and focused. Ford and Apple started in garages, Facebook and Google in dorm rooms.

Lest you think otherwise, large organizations do this nearly as frequently as startups. When an urgent need arises, like new regulations requiring rapid changes to large IT systems, big companies pull their best people off of whatever they were working on and put them in a locked room to solve the pressing problem. The lock is not to keep them in, but rather to keep the bureaucrats out. Constraints are removed and the team is made significantly more autonomous.

Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program famously calls this type of process “Skunk Works.” Your organization may call it “Tiger Teams”.

The Hero process requires picking heroic people and then committing them to heroic efforts. Hiring is difficult. The Hero process demands heroic staff and it can be tricky to find time. Work is challenging. Long hours and overtime are de rigeur. Mere mortals need not apply. In exchange for their commitment and expertise, the heroes are given special consideration and the latitude to succeed or fail on their own terms. They are excused from many corporate standards and controls. They sacrifice greatly, but may not even recognize it as sacrifice because they are so driven by purpose. The reward for their sacrifice is frequently creating the worlds most innovative products and services.

Hero Process Model

Why do we work this way? We need it yesterday
How do we get better decisions? Get better experts
Who makes the decisions? The heroes

What reduces risk? Experienced heroes

TL;DR: The Hero process is simple: Find people with passion, years of experience, or strong intuitive insights and give them the autonomy and the resources to “get -er-done.” Hope for the best.

One bright summer day in 1999 I was visiting Richard Sheridan, a favorite client of mine working hard to reinvent his software delivery organization.  Richard told me he wanted to create “A software development team that rocked.” I told him that if he actually followed our advice he would become…
As small organizations grow they discover a terrifying new reality. Five uncoordinated heroes doing whatever it takes to get things done can be exhilarating. Five hundred heroes doing the same thing is a nightmare. The need for structure becomes painfully apparent. Organizations ask themselves: How can we reliably reproduce results?…

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply