Avoid the 'Too Fast, Too Furious' Approach to Scaling a Startup
For founders, there's nothing like the adrenaline rush of explosive growth. When you're at the helm of a fast-growing startup, and your company is in growth mode, you feel like nothing can slow you down. You're bringing on new talent, inking new deals across the globe and moving forward rapid-fire with a slew of new ideas.
While growth is good, a "too fast, too furious" approach can create cracks in the foundation that can slow down your business later. In a landmark study, Startup Genome found 74 percent of high-growth startups fail due to premature scaling. Evidence has backed up those numbers ever since. For every success story, there is a cautionary tale (or two, or three, or four).
Scale is what separates small businesses from startups and getting there can be a bumpy road. At MessageBird, we know the journey well. Within the span of a few short years, we've grown 300 percent -- from a handful of employees in a garage in Amsterdam to a global team that now stretches across seven offices worldwide.
How? By prioritizing customers above all else. In other words:
Your customers are the canary in the coal mine.
When you start a business, it's all about the customer. But, there's something about scaling that forces founders to look inwardly. That type of tunnel vision is good, in that it allows founders to focus on internal processes. But, it also allows founders to shrug off or eye roll away rumblings from customers as one-offs, instead of recognizing them as the wake-up calls they are.
Customer service should drive your ability to scale, rather than take a backseat to it. Don't excuse away growing pains as something customers will understand as you expand. They won't. And they shouldn't. Keep a close eye on your Net Promoter Score score and build a customer feedback loop to understand what your customers value and what you can do better -- then deliver.
Don't "try" to scale.
It seems counter-intuitive at first glance, but this subtle shift in mindset will save you a lot of headaches down the road. Instead of a looking at scale as an outcome, look at is as a natural extension of the work you're already doing for your customers. Don't force it. If you're scaling as it's needed, you'll set your company up for success; if you're scaling before you're ready, you're putting your company at risk. After all, scale isn't the end game. The end game is building something your customers want and, in turn, creating a strong, sustainable business. Scale is just a means to that end.
Stay as lean as possible for as long as possible.
In today's Silicon Valley startup ecosystem, venture capitalists are on a unicorn hunt -- buoying the tech sector with cash, hoping to find the next billion-dollar disruptor. For bootstrapped companies suddenly confronted by an influx of funds, the temptation can be to over-staff and over-spend. The trick is to spend and staff based on business need, instead of available funds. That way, you're watching your cash flow, while allowing enough runway for growth.
Learn to respond instead of react.
When you're leading a high-growth startup, venture capital money is an incredible accelerator. It's also an incredible source of pressure. The bigger the round, the bigger the expectations. Founders feel like they have to move quickly to show results. Usually, that means dialing up marketing and sales to drive user acquisition and building out an infrastructure to support new business when those leads are converted to sales. All of which is great -- as long as you're taking the time to really understand the customer pain, and then solve it.
My advice? Stay close to your customers and respond to their needs, instead of reacting to the need to fill your funnel. Your decisions will be strategic and calibrated, instead of scattershot.
Call it what you want to call it -- just a bunch of workaholics.
While no path to growth is completely smooth, when your workplace is well taken care of it will feel like it's humming. Employees are working effectively and efficiently because they're energized by their work and able to keep pace with demand. If you're scaling too quickly, the vibe will change. People will feel like they're chained to their desks. And then, those desks will become empty because employees won't want to stick around. Take note of turnover and retention. Implement feedback sessions and create opportunities internally to gauge employee experience.Every startup experience feels a bit like an action movie. But, by shifting your mindset, it could turn out more like a fairy tale. After all, when it comes to scaling, it's better to channel Goldilocks instead of Vin Diesel, to make sure everything is "just right" instead of "too fast, too furious."