The New Year is usually the time when many start-ups consider the next phase of growth. But if not thought through carefully, you can easily fall into of wanting to scale your start-up too quickly.
The current start-up model values immediate revenue over sustainable growth, so it’s no surprise that over 70 per cent of start-ups fail due to premature scaling.
The big assumption is that fast equals “winning the market”, and sometimes these growth ambitions can get tangled up with ego. While you do need a healthy dose of bravery, you also need to build positive momentum, not chaotic workloads, and surround yourself with level-headed people to keep the scale journey as steady as can be, leading to proper outcomes rather than wasted efforts.
The biggest pattern we’ve seen in our community of over 2,000 start-ups – and from my own experience – is wanting to do it all, from growing into markets, building new parts to the business, as well as bringing in new people.
My advice is to stay recharged and open-minded, don’t rely on things to organically “happen” or go your way. Chartering the unknown doesn’t mean forgetting the fundamentals; if anything, you need to do this more as you scale.
There is no perfect formula for scaling and the process will come with hard truths and brave learnings. Having worked alongside start-ups that have successfully scaled-up, here are some tips for how you can grow your business in the new year:
#1 – Take time for reflection
Before you begin assessing the opportunities to scale your business, it’s important to reflect.
I was once told, “What got you here today, won’t get you there tomorrow.” Be prepared to shake things up within the business, to break old habits and formulas which may have worked in the past, but won’t necessarily help you with the future.
Have open conversations with your team about what you’ve learned, what could be improved on and what the goals are for the upcoming year. This builds so much trust, and I believe, inspires your people.
During this reflection period, remind yourself of what is vital to the business and what makes it special. This should be at the core of all your business decisions, especially when scaling. When we opened the very first Huckletree coworking space, every member was like family and we’ve since ensured that this is at the heart of everything we do. We ensure never to lose that spirit or connection even as we continue to grow sustainably.
On the other hand, the downfall of WeWork exposed a major flaw in some parts of the coworking industry, which has marketed itself on trends and hype. But people don’t buy hype, they buy value and substance. Successful scale-ups in the long term are the ones which have clearly defined a value system that is consistent across their business.
These are the necessary first steps that will help you navigate the changes that need to be made if you want to scale your start-up.
#2 – Look ahead with curiosity
When considering the major milestones for the year, I find it valuable to also contemplate the next decade of innovation for your company.
From my experience, the most successful scale-ups are those that are curious about where the market is moving in the next five, 10 years – not just the year ahead. This requires you to stop, research, imagine and formulate an opinion on what’s to come.
Once defined, have regular check-ins throughout the year to assess how you’re tracking alongside these goals, highlight the proof points straight after they happen, and celebrate people who embody it.
#3 – Invest in your people
The start of the year is a crucial period for businesses, with almost one of five people considering moving their company in January. And as we enter a decade of consciousness, employees want to believe in what you’re creating and believe that their work is meaningful, and not simply a means to an end.
This is why sustainable speed is a far better alternative, as you are valuing the growth of your people. The more you invest in your current workforce, the more they can surprise you by adapting and maturing into the environment around them and seeing opportunities that you can’t.
Ensure you’re creating a working environment that helps employees build relationships, recharge and show up at their best.
#4 – Bringing in the right talent
Talent is a key driver of success, so spend time on making the right hires.
Set yourself up for future success by surrounding yourself with people who completely buy into why you do what you do. Your people are your business’s secret weapon. They live and promote your ethos and will come to be your most powerful and valuable connections.
The personalities that had me intrigued, the people who drew me in and the candidates who had that special something were the ones I’ve always wanted to be part of our team and part of our family. Now, some of our first Huckletree members are our ambassadors, alumni, and advisors. We learn from them every day (and I hope this never stops).
Be ambitious with who you bring into your business. Look for senior leads who are junior CXOs-in-the-making. Not only are they experts in their own function or craft, but they increase the total emotional intelligence and resilience of your company, which is often deciding factor between unsuccessful and successful scale-ups.
Having this mentality from the start will make the scale stage feel less lonely and overwhelming.
Scale your start-up
When you’re starting out, you sweat the small stuff. Every email, every poster in the space, coffee mug, and event. But as you grow, you need to let go of those things so that you can focus on the broader vision and future.
When we looked at our hubs across 2019 and into 2020, we thought a lot about team and timing. Questions came up like “When is the right time to hire senior leadership and functional experts?” “What order do we do things in and is there even an order?’” “What’s the right community team structure for every Huckletree hub?”
Spending time on talent, and the timing and rhythms of the business is time well spent, so don’t sacrifice it for other seemingly urgent things on your to-do list.
Along the journey to scale your start-up, you will encounter some missteps and challenges – especially with Brexit where many founders are still unsure of the overall impact it will have.
You must take these as learning curves. Share these learnings with your wider company by feeding them into your day-to-day meetings and reflections.
Focus on cash and proving sustainable growth and returns, don’t shy away from the hard course (that’s where the fun is), make sure you love and know your product inside out before you expand, and remember substance over style every day of the week.
Gabriela Hersham is founder and CEO of Huckletree