For Long-Term Growth, First Scale Your Foundation
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Tech startups are busting out of the incubator daily, ready to take on the world and grow to new heights as quickly as possible. Ambition is a terrific thing, but focusing too much on the now can really hurt your business in the long term. The best thing you can do as a tech startup looking to take over the world some day is to focus on scale but think out, not just up.
Far too often, young companies make the mistake of building solely for now, and then are left to start over when their business changes five years down the road. You can’t blame them. They see the social media models of stacking millions of users on top of each other as quickly as possible, like a really tall skyscraper. They want to replicate the process. Instead, they should picture a pyramid and scale out, constructing a strong base that will allow them to build on top of later on.
Build for scale, not just to achieve size. One of the biggest pitfalls a tech startup might face is the “user grab”, because in our day and age, users are an industry benchmark. Having a realistic view of your potential user base is key -- if you think you’ll have 5,000 users after two months, don’t build for a billion just because it’s a sexier number. You’ll never get there, and it will be a waste of time and resources. You want to build for scale and resilience, so if 5,000 users is your target number, build for 25,000 users instead to allow you the flexibility you need as you continue to grow.
Having an understanding of the business you’re building and what you’re really trying to achieve is crucial. I like to employ the MoSCoW method (a throwback to my Russian heritage) -- a Must, Should, Could, Want ranking system -- to decide what my company’s must haves are, and build toward that vision. Separating needs vs. wants will help you focus on scale and ensure viability further down the road.
Future business needs to plan for now. It’s impossible to predict what all future business needs will be, but there are some smart decisions you can make early on that will carry real value later by ensuring you don’t have to start a process over or build something from scratch.
One of the most important things you can do is implement processes as soon as possible, so as you grow, you’ve got everything in place to handle any issue that may arise. It’s much easier to address a problem when you already have a plan in place, rather than scrambling when something pops up. Something as simple as implementing a project management lifecycle early on will be a huge help as you continue to scale.
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You should also choose third party vendors and coding languages you can grow with, because you want the confidence to know that when you face more complex issues down the line, you’re fully prepared for them. Take your website – it may be easy early on to build something with WordPress, but as you grow larger, there is less flexibility to build what your business needs. Instead, start your website using Python/Flask so it’s easier to manipulate later on.
No such thing as a perfect plan. Scaling out and planning for the future now will allow you to automate vital processes, foster a DevOps culture, and be flexible in your solutions -- but it’s not a perfect science. If you’re committed to a suite of tools and realize one part no longer works for you, it’s hard to replace it without ripping out the entire suite. It can also prove difficult if your company is not cloud-based, because you’re then dealing with people and purchase orders that aren’t meant for velocity in terms of getting new initiatives up and running.
Still, scaling in this way will put you in the best position for long term success without taxing your team and your platform. It took a great effort to get yourself up and running -- bring your future into the now and give your business the best shot at success.