The People Side of Scaling Your Startup

Once you have achieved product – market fit, which means, you have a product people want to buy, in a growing market and you can attract repeatable sales, it’s time to scale and enter the rapid-growth phase.

When scaling your startup, one of the most important tasks as founder or CEO is getting the people side of your business right.

While it’s a monumental achievement to come up with a new business idea, acquire initial customers and raise capital, to truly build a scalable company, hiring and managing the right people makes continuous rapid growth actually possible.

At IntelligenceBank, a SaaS business process management company, over the past couple of years, we grew our customer base and sales very fast and experienced first-hand what it takes to get the ‘human side’ right for scale. Here are some lessons we learned along the way.

The CEO Needs to Change

One of the biggest shifts to the human side of your business is that the role of the start-up CEO needs to evolve. Instead of the CEO doing everything (which is initially essential to getting a business off the ground), with scale comes the need to delegate.

That means hiring a great team of managers who can make decisions, lead people and essentially replicate parts of what the CEO did – and even do it better. While this seems like an obvious concept, it is sometimes hard for CEO’s to let go, and to also find a professional management team to whom they can hand over the reins.

When I initially raised capital in 2013, we had some great leaders in place, however, our management team was not fully established. This meant my day was filled with operational tasks and strategic issues didn’t get enough breathing room.

Once we hired a couple of new key management positions, I knew we had reached the next stage of operational scale when I no longer had to be at every major client meeting, or participate in product development decisions.

Hire the Right People for your Stage

I’m a firm believer that every decision you make needs to be suitable for your company’s stage.  Just like to you need to find the right investors for your company size, you need to also hire the right team who can take your business to the next level.

There are some people who are really good at early stage start-ups, but once you hit a certain size, it’s all about processes and the people who can ‘just get it done’ early on aren’t necessarily the same people who are good at putting in systems.

You actually need both types of people as you scale and it’s important to recognize when you need to add more skills to your talent pool. It’s also key to bring in new people who have taken companies to your next stage before, so you can learn from their successes and mistakes and not have to figure it all out yourself.

Formalize the Feedback Process, But Keep It Simple

When you are small (i.e. under 10 people), managing performance is relatively easy because it’s clear who is doing what and how well.

When you have more than 20 people on staff, that’s when it gets complicated. IntelligenceBank has simplified the employee feedback process to ensure everyone is heard and the organization continually improves based on operational feedback.

First, each year we run an all staff survey called Start.Stop.Keep – whereby all staff recommend things we should start doing, stop doing and keep doing. This paints a very accurate picture of what’s working and what needs fixing.

The results are shared with everyone, and the management team are given action items to address key issues. With this process in place, everyone feels heard and things get done.

Second – we are passionate about doing regular one-on-one coaching reviews so we can ensure people are successful in their jobs and we help them succeed along the way, not just give them feedback at the end of the year. While we do conduct formal annual reviews – we find there are amazing coaching opportunities that emerge over a casual cup of coffee.

The 2 Traits You Need to Value

As we started to grow, we looked at professionalizing our review process, with advanced employee assessment frameworks. Unfortunately, these frameworks required a full-time HR person to manage – which was a luxury position for us at the time.

So instead, I thought about the core of what we value as a business, which is being positive, going the extra mile, continually improving and performance. It is our view that you can teach some things such as a new programming language, but for an employee to be successful, he or she needs only two traits: a great attitude and great performance.

When we came to this conclusion, we looked around the office and realized that while most people had these two traits, some had one but not the other, so we quickly focussed on upskilling when possible to get the performance piece right, and actively migrated out the people who couldn’t get there from a performance perspective or who didn’t have aligned values and attitude.

Now when we hire new staff, we look for these two traits with rigor and have made very few hires that were a poor fit since.

Hire Impact Players

Our US sales director, who is also a coach on the weekends always talks about ‘impact players’.  That is – getting people on the team who aren’t just going to warm a seat and do their job, but people who are going to move the business forward.

When you have a 1000+-person company – you will have seat warmers, and that’s reality.  But when you are small and every person counts 110%, don’t hire just to fill a role – but wait for the person who will truly make a difference to their position and to the overall business.

Creating a high-growth business is no small task. You of course need a great idea, but the hardest part is impeccable implementation and to effectively execute – you need great people who will drive the business. So by getting the human side of the business right, you will ultimately make scaling your business easier.