There is no set path as you evolve your startup into a growth company, there are steps, there are guidelines and people who have done this before but no secret sauce you can just “do”. Financially this can be the most challenging time of your venture if you have bootstrapped (as we are) hiring to scale as fast as the revenue is coming in the door can. There is less free advice around, many of the resources our local government provide or free resource materials online are aimed at startups with fewer aimed at how to traverse beyond this.
So here is our free advice, we are by no means through to the other side but we feel slightly more in control now (but that’s a relative thing control too) and understand what’s involved in making our next major step change which will project us into the next evolution of growth. We have made loads of mistakes and gone down many cul-de-sac’s – it’s good to remember this alongside celebrating the successes and keep track of positive progress.
Keep the hunger, urgency and momentum
- As Jack Welch said “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Don’t fall into the a comfortable space and forget to stay hungry (side note I don’t subscribe to his bell curve but like some of his quotes) .
- Keep the momentum up in your team – some of our biggest mistakes have been hiring ones with team members who don’t understand the correlation between their performance and our companies success, who are well paid and/or have a poor work ethic trying to lull other team members down to their level instead of everyone stepping up to ours.
- Keep the underdog mentality alive in everyone – after all you are still the underdog, there is always someone bigger out there to compete with, identify that target and keep them in sight.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
- If you are lucky enough to have a co-founder or strong business partner remember the way you schemed and planned for the company you wanted to become – keep doing that! Shane and I spend hours every week talking about our ideas, our vision, our next move, our step next step change. We will never stop because if we do the hunger, urgency and momentum will stop too.
- Communicate with everyone in your team about everything, don’t fall into the trap of information is power – tell everyone everything at the same time (we run our business with yammer, I don’t email anything, everything is on yammer and we all chat away all day).
- Communicate with your customers obsessively! afterall 100% of your businesses profits come from your customers. They are what you are here for, they are your only revenue source, communication is key.
- Hire for fit first, skills second.
- Fit is hard to define, don’t over think it and go with your gut. In my experience if someone is challenging to get on board they will be challenging to manage – side note don’t put in managers to manage difficult staff, the problem is more fundamental than that.
- Be clear on accountabilities and outcomes, provide context and constraints, communicate and then get out of their way and let them do their job. If they’re not – you have a problem!
Don’t become the bottleneck
- We haven’t solved this yet! if you asked me today what our biggest obstacle limiting our growth was? I would say us (Shane and myself), we run around like headless chickens all the time, we don’t want our team to carry that stress but we need to find ways we aren’t the bottleneck while managing the tension of focusing on the right things.
Remember to have some fun!
- We went into this to create a business we (Shane and I) want to work for, so every day we’re not having fun is a bad day for us.
- Keeping the momentum and urgency up is vastly helped by taking time to do stupid stuff too so have some fun with the team, let them blow off steam occasionally (without taking the piss and having more fun than adding value of course).
Don’t forget your startup roots
I found myself re-reading Mark Cuban’s 12 Rules for Startups again today, he makes some really good points worth keeping in mind as your company grows – most are commonly understood and well versed within the screeds of advice out there for startups, some are common-sense and others you will only learn from experience (as I said in my last blog there are some things you just have to learn for yourself, people can’t tell you). Here are his 12 Rules, we broke many of them early but who’s to say too early? that’s part of the feeling your way into growth evolution:
- Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love.
- If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.
- Hire people who you think will love working there.
- Sales Cure All. Know how your company will make money and how you will actually make sales.
- Know your core competencies and focus on being great at them. Pay up for people in your core competencies. Get the best.
- An espresso machine? Are you kidding me? Coffee is for closers. Sodas are free. Lunch is a chance to get out of the office and talk.
- No offices. Open offices keep everyone in tune with what is going on and keep the energy up. If an employee is about privacy, show him or her how to use the lock on the bathroom.
- As far as technology, go with what you know. That is always the most inexpensive way. If you know Apple, use it.
- Keep the organization flat. If you have managers reporting to managers in a startup, you will fail.
- Never buy swag. A sure sign of failure for a startup is when someone sends me logo-embroidered polo shirts.
- Never hire a PR firm. A public relations firm will call or email people in the publications you already read, on the shows you already watch and at the websites you already surf.
- Make the job fun for employees. Keep a pulse on the stress levels and accomplishments of your people and reward them.
This won’t be my last blog on the topic of growth as I have only scratched the surface here, there is so much to learn and so much more to do to continue our growth and stay successful.
Happy sharing, Vic.