I don’t think that this is reserved for just startups. I think this, and Jason’s points also apply to any department that is put in a startup-role within a larger company. My department for instance is the Tech department in a record company. You can’t get any more startup oriented than that.
Insofar as how we run, we treat it as such. We watch our spending, try to be innovative and agile, try to be transparent (ie, this blog) and most of all try to give a good return for our investors (who happens to be the entire rest of the company).
Here are some of our rules
Good Tools Make Good People Happy - Everyone in my department gets the best tools I can possibly get them to do their job. That means large screens, fast computers, any software they need, professional memberships they need and extending to the chairs. My view is: to us, the computers are as essential as an A&R reps speakers.
Open Source = Healthy and Fun - We use open source everything as the backbone for our technology infrastructure. Not only does it mitigate huge costs in terms of support and acquisition, but it forcibly injects our department into a larger community outside of the building. We end up working with people who are in very different industries and all the better because of it.
Skype is Your Friend - We use two Skype rooms during the day, one for our internal discussion and one for discussion with “active partners” (ie, all developers working on projects). Skype is nice because it’ll download chat history when I sign in from home, so I can catch things I miss, and its a progressive archiving chat engine. We tried Campfire but no one liked it. We seldom use Skype for voice, mostly its just chat.
Wiki’s are Great - We have two Wiki’s, one for internal documentation and process, and one for external. They work great if you keep them organized.
MacMini’s are the best - We have 5 MacMinis laying around. Only one is permanently in use as our department file-share server and Wiki servers. THe rest we use to quickly provision up and provision down test servers, demo engines, Intern computers or what not.
Life is Important - We all sometimes struggle with this. Me more than the rest of my team I think, but I do think its really important that we all have lives outside of work. Its very hard to do this sometimes, and I think too much focus on work causes a very roller coaster up and down, where one minute you’re all for work, and the next you don’t want to think about it. A balance of work/life keeps you focused, but not too focused.
Friendship is Equally Important - You aren’t always going to like the people you work with all the time, but its important I think to always consider yourself friends more than just coworkers. If you have a shared mission, a shared passion and shared experiences, you’re much better off. We have a bit of a different situation in that we’re one of 10 departments. This makes this super important as its up to our unified presence and barriers to enforce what the boundaries of our department are, what the rules are and what our identity is.
Innovation is More Important than Production - I believe this firmly. If you get too bogged down in day to day, you loose the spirit of innovation. Sometimes there needs to be freedom to allow things to break, as the act of fixing is better than just turning the same knob every day.