Any new company would welcome growth with open arms. But when that growth becomes overbearing, it can quickly suffocate your business, instead of supporting it. When we founded our e-commerce fashion company, our goal was to sell 500 items in 30 days. Instead, we sold more than 2,000 products in that first month -- and in the process experienced that “oh, crap!” moment all entrepreneurs dream about.
The reality of managing our overnight boom felt more like a nightmare than a fairy tale.
The rest of the story is that we survived the nightmare, while learning any number of things in the process. Here, then, are seven lessons we learned that help explain how we built on our sudden success instead of drowning in it.
1. Overstaff your customer service team.
At launch, we only had two employees, so customer service quickly became a serious concern. Having poor customer service early on can ruin a startup’s reputation. So, we hired staff to answer emails seven days a week and preserve the positive customer experience. Faithful team members and a strong team dynamic made it easier to stay consistent, as we took turns communicating with customers.
2. Capitalize on the magic.
Although you may be buried in work, you have to set your gaze on the future -- or you won’t have one. Assess what caused your boom, and develop projections based on your initial success. Capture that magic, and explore ways to make it last. You’ll have time down the road to chase other unicorns. In the meantime, stay focused on what’s working.
3. Step back, and identify your priorities.
A boom will stretch your resources beyond capacity. Don’t hesitate to make temporary changes so you can prioritize more pressing matters. We paused advertising for 30 days so we could build out core features on our site and deliver a better customer experience. Freezing our marketing efforts was frustrating, but in the ecommerce world, we knew that perfecting the customer experience came first.
4. Anticipate the worst.
Something will go wrong, but don’t let small setbacks discourage you. Most problems that feel back-breaking aren’t as serious as you think. When heavy traffic caused our site to crash, I freaked out. But our IT guys had it back up and running within an hour, though I would have sworn it was down for 24. While this was a minor glitch in an otherwise smooth beginning, it didn’t feel that way. Most problems like this resolve themselves. The bigger ones just take some creativity.
5. Brush up on your IT knowledge.
If any part of your business operates online, push through the learning curve, and grow your tech IQ. I had zero tech experience when we launched, and I was responsible for our site performance. I worked my way through each problem with our IT team. Now I can understand nearly every aspect of our site. We still need real IT experts, but because I can spot problems quickly and communicate clearly with IT, we can knock down barriers with ease.
6. Fire quickly.
During a sudden boom, you can’t control every aspect of your business singlehandedly. This puts your management skills to the test. Instead of micromanaging, delegate tasks to team members you trust. If anyone contributes to your stress instead of easing it, let him or her go. Unreliable team members can sink a startup fast. You need people you can trust to get the job done. Firing people isn’t fun, but it’s part of the job for an effective leader.
7. Seek outside perspectives.
Look for advisors who have been in your position and came out on top. Communicate with them regularly so you have several sounding boards and various perspectives to consider. The startup world is highly transparent, and many seasoned entrepreneurs will be more than willing to help. You just need to ask.
Experiencing overnight success is a thrill ride, but if you want it to last longer than a day, focus on overcoming the most pressing details while keeping the big picture in view. As long as you play it right, your fabled success story won’t have to come to an end.
Related: Quit Screwing Around and Get to Work