Let’s face it, the odds are stacked against every founder brave enough to venture into the world of entrepreneurship. Statistics show that an estimated 90 per cent of new startups fail in the first year.
But, you are one of the lucky ones whose company is surviving the startup phase; you’ve built a stellar team, iterated on your product, and pivoted your business model. Your company is gaining new customers on a daily or weekly basis, your team is growing and you’ve closed a round of investment or two.
You’ve done nearly everything right, and it’s finally working – the days, months, and maybe even years worth of blood, sweat and tears expelled while building your business are finally paying off.
You know it’s time to scale your company, but you’re also familiar with the horror stories of startups that have hit turmoil or met their demise while scaling.
Going from startup to scale-up can bring many challenges, but there are three areas that every company should focus on as they grow: your people, product and priorities.
Everyone from junior level employees to members on the senior leadership team will play an important role in this critical time for your business. As you grow and hire more talent, you will need to consider your human resources strategy. Developing your HR policies before you need them will help avoid a lot of frustration in the future when you’re faced with an “HR nightmare”, such as workplace misconduct, poor employee retention or even employment-related legal battles.
There will also be a lot of change as you scale your company and develop your corporate structure, policies and procedures. Employees who’ve been with the company since its infancy may struggle as they transition out of the “all hands on deck” mentality to a more departmental approach to the work they do.
Shifting from a hybrid role to one that is experience-driven and task-specific may cause employees to struggle with the lack of variety at first. You can support these employees during this transition by communicating the importance of their work regularly and providing ample opportunity to diversify their skillset in other areas of the business through special projects or committees.
Your product is the bread and butter of your company. So product-related challenges seem to be the most urgent and costly to scaling companies.
Many technology-enabled companies run into product problems when their tech isn’t built in a scalable way. In the early days of product development, you likely pieced together whatever you could to build your minimum viable product and validate market demand. But now that you have a growing number of customers or users, the capacity of your technology will be put to the test.
The best way to avoid technical issues when scaling is to build your product the right way from the start. This is definitely easier said than done, but it is important to try to get the tech right as soon as you can. Be cautious of taking the easy or cheap route when it comes to building out your product. Hiring an inexperienced developer may sound like a great bargain initially, but it could end up costing you a fortune (and potentially the loyalty of early adopters) if you have to rebuild your product from scratch down the road.
Another trap scaling companies fall into when it comes to developing their product is the race to see how fast they can add new features. Everyone loves a multifunctional product, but a lot of productivity hours can be wasted by having your team add new features on a whim. Avoid unnecessary work and potential disruptions to current product users by developing a product roadmap that is informed by accurate customer research. This ensures all efforts are focused, efficient and working towards creating a better product.
As a leader, your priorities can make or break your company’s success. If a company doesn’t have a strong understanding of their business goals and objectives before shifting into scaling mode, it will be challenging to remain focused and determine priorities for the business moving forward.
When scaling, business leaders often forget to be lean in pursuit of exponential growth. By fixating on becoming larger, a company can begin to lose sight of the benefits of trimming excess. Sometimes you need less to do more, and this is often the case for companies in a growth phase, as resource allocation may need to change.
As you grow, your priorities should and will evolve, but it is important to ensure your priorities align with what the business actually needs and not what you think it needs.
It can be easy to get into the weeds of your product. If you have a tech background, you may naturally be inclined to prioritize the product’s development over, for example, the customer onboarding experience. However, if your onboarding experience isn’t as frictionless as possible, you may begin losing customers faster than you can gain them, which in turn, hurts your growth and counteracts your scaling efforts.
No matter the stage you’re at, it’s never too soon – or too late – to start preparing for the challenges your company will face as you scale. Keep these “three p’s of scaling” in mind to better equip yourself and your company to overcome challenges as you grow.