What I've Learned Helping Scale Hundreds of Small Businesses The formula to serious scale includes building momentum, partnering well and maintaining a human-centered approach to business design.
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As a tech entrepreneur, I'm passionate about articulating the obstacles to startup growth and scale, and about designing corresponding solutions by leveraging tech. I'm the founder and CEO of Thoroughbred Solutions; my team and I have helped countless small and medium-sized businesses scale significantly by streamlining processes across areas ranging from customer experience to service delivery. We design products that innovate and automate to help free up our partner entrepreneurs so that they can focus on what really matters in the evolution of their businesses. We've killed the 80-hour workweeks that plagued so many of our clients and replaced them with ten-hour ones. We've helped revenues multiply to eight figures. And we're still just getting started.
Here are my insights on building scale from interacting with the world's best entrepreneurs, building my own ventures and over a decade of tech consulting. Whether you're a solopreneur or leader of a 100-member team, grounding yourself in these essential concepts will keep you from repeating the same patterns of mistakes made by most of your peers.
Let's dive in.
Build your flywheel (and if you can, help others build theirs)
Jim Collins is one of my favorite authors; an important concept he illustrates is called "turning the flywheel." It underscores the necessity and importance of building and accelerating momentum for a company to grow.
You've likely heard of a flywheel — it's a mechanical device that conserves rotational or "kinetic" energy, maintaining the inertia that keeps your car engine running. It also stores excess energy for subsequent use. It needs a lot of force to get going, but once it does, it wants to keep going, so to speak, and can even be hard to stop. Collins puts this in a business context: A "flywheel" is a self-reinforcing loop that you feed with effort and initiatives, all of which fuel each other. The more you do this, the more it begins to create its own inertia and momentum, helping you build a thriving business in the long run. In The Everything Store, we see Amazon's growth explained by this flywheel concept, and furthermore, we see that feeding any part of the flywheel reinforces and accelerates this loop.
With Thoroughbred's clients, I've seen many plateaus and burnouts when a company reaches a certain scale. Our job is to help them build momentum in order to push past those plateaus. We've done this repeatedly and now have a playbook for layering in services at different stages of a startup's growth. Depending on where our clients are in their journey, they might need to refine product design, revisit their revenue model, improve lead generation or build a more efficient sales funnel to reach the next level in terms of scale.
As an entrepreneur, I invite you to look at your own business using the flywheel lens. You want to consciously design a system that works on momentum and churns out results, thriving even when you step off. One way to do this is to get heavy on automation and shift your focus to activities where human interaction is irreplaceable. Another is to look for missed initiatives in providing value to your customer, which can help you build a more efficient and predictable income stream. It's up to you to figure out what's keeping you stuck and how to feed your flywheel.
And the more you can help your various teams, partners and clients build and refine theirs, the faster everyone around you grows.
Related: Test, Build, Accelerate and Scale: Meet the 4 Cycles of Jeff Bezos
Choose your partners well
It surprises me that few leaders give adequate weightage when choosing the partners they work with (including their clients). The biggest decisions you'll make as an entrepreneur will be directly influenced by who you've partnered with; co-founders, investors, employees, vendors and clients will make or break your business. I would insist that you only work with the people who know and truly believe in what they're doing.
At Thoroughbred, we're clear that we don't need to take on every project that comes along. We have a strict filter for choosing our clients (just as we do for our hires). We want to work with the people we can promise to help in journeys of extraordinary growth. Personally, I want to ensure that my team feels invested in the potential success of each of our clients. We're not interested in pitching to and convincing every potential paying customer, but rather in creating long-term, win-win partnerships with the clients we do work with.
Choose your partners well — it will make all the difference in your journey and peace of mind.
Adopt a human-centered approach
You should want every product that you design to ultimately be useful, and if possible, enjoyable, for the person it is meant for. Being obsessed with customer experience and taking the end-user into account every step of the way as you develop your offering helps you in at least four different ways:
- It gets your whole team aligned from the beginning; everyone goes to the drawing board with the same understanding of what your end-user expects.
- As the project progresses, it forces you to keep the end goal in mind, preventing you from any misdirected iterations and product designs that are a mismatch vis-a-vis user touchpoints.
- It encourages you to get feedback from the actual, ultimate target customer throughout her lifecycle so that you're not launching a product for which there's no demand.
- Lastly, it helps you spot missed revenue opportunities for services that end-users need and would be happy to pay for.
We keep this in mind every day as we interact with our clients. We start with elicitation techniques that are proven to facilitate the capture of clear requirements and deliver a detailed brief before we ever design anything. We ensure all teams are aligned with regard to the vision. We approach product success from a process perspective. We maintain a mindset of user engagement. We ensure we propose solid go-to-market strategies for our clients. This is how we're able to help them generate monthly recurring revenues in tens of thousands of dollars — in many cases, before the product is even launched.
I'd encourage you to be obsessed with your end-users and to stubbornly maintain a human-centric approach in your entrepreneurial ventures; it really does pay off.
Entrepreneurship is challenging, and we all hit bumps along the way. But we must try to learn from the journeys of others. We must remember that when a door closes, it does so for a good reason. We must keep loving the businesses that we build while keeping our eyes open for new opportunities — they're everywhere once we've learned how to look.