Almost every start-up and investor loves to talk about hockey stick growth, and scalability. Creating a business that can scale, meaning handle substantial increases in workload without affecting quality, isn’t easy though. Lots of companies fail trying to scale. So how can you prepare to create a scalable company?
I asked Penny Wilson, the CMO of HootSuite. She’s proven her skill at scaling companies, having grown Alias from $35m to $110m before being sold to Silicon Graphics; and grown Macromedia from $125m to $650m before being sold to Adobe for $3.4b. As a plus, she’s got a degree in Computer Science, so she’s a bigger geek than most CMOs.
Here’s her five point ACEIT strategy to scale a business:
Understand what your core asset is, most companies only have one or at the most two. Focus on it, make sure to differentiate and build on that core asset. Don’t get distracted. Don’t try to be too much for too many people. Don’t chase the next shiny thing.
Ensure that the voice of the customer is incorporated in everything you do, whatever aspect of your business or strategy that might be. Customer success, support, internal processes. I believe that customers will take you places you’ve never thought about. Make sure you understand who your customer is, what they want, and what their opinion on your products and your competitors are. Always be customer centric. Whenever you make a decision, make sure it’s in the best interests of your customer.
You can’t do it on your own. It’s really important to have partners, thought leaders and key people in your industry that can help you scale. Good partners will help you expand your reach, grow your offering and build your credibility – with a fraction of the investment you’d need to do it yourself. They are a key strategy for any company, make sure you work together to create win-win relationships.
You always need to be looking for something completely different from what you’re doing. It doesn’t need to be technology, it could be in your process or in your data. It’s just about thinking differently. In the old days of computer graphics nobody’s hair would move, so the key differentiator for us was to have an algorithm for digital hair. Making hair look real, allowed us to leap frog our competition. It wasn’t an incremental change, or something we copied to stay at par, it was radically different. Be bold and do things that will make you stand out.
If you want to get stuff done you need a good team. Keep building the strengths, talents and passion of your team. When managing a team, it’s important to be able to manage failure – because it’s inevitably going to happen. I believe that failure can be as good as success, the important thing is to take the high road. When something goes wrong, good leaders need to help people through it. Don’t hide from the failure, recognize it, accept it and move on. It’s about encouraging grit & resilience. Teams that are gritty will survive failure and grow better because of it.
What are you doing to scale?
You can’t accurately predict what will happen or how any particular plan will actually turn out. As a leader, scalability is about creating the right atmosphere and culture for growth. The software, processes and technology is important, but they’re just tools to support a team that’s focused on growth.