Preparing For Scale…Are You Ready?

“Scaling = the art and science of building and evolving a high performing, disparate team at rapid pace”

Given the difficulties we read about of companies struggling to scale, we figured we’d host an event dedicated to unpacking what it means to prepare for scale. We kicked off the evening with a 30 min presentation on the basics of hyper-scale from Paul Fifield who was the CRO at UNiDAYS and grew revenue 2000% over 3 years from $2M to $40M with no external funding.

Following the presentation, I had the pleasure of moderating my first panel and what a panel it was! We heard from Catherine Wines -Director & Co-Founder- @WorldRemit; Catherine Alani -VP of Scaling- @Dozens (and ex Head of People @TransferWise); Niamh Gavin (Ecosystem cognoscenti and tech enthusiast); Patrick Timoney -VP of Business Ops @Improbable; and Paul Fifield — CEO & Founder- @50:500.

Between them their companies have raised approximately $1.4bn and they’ve grown teams of 1000s of people across the globe. We knew we were in for a treat and below are just some of the key insights and learnings from their roller-coaster experiences…

On how you know you’re on the cusp of scale…

The recurring theme here was that there’s no one determining factor but the signals include “things getting harder”, usually because you’re now getting a steady demand or repeat sales. When this demand starts to outpace your current capabilities, it’s a sure sign that you’re ready to expand.

On how to prepare…

Setting expectations will be crucial. Make it known that things are about to ramp up, and “not everyone will be able to get involved in everything anymore”. This is paramount especially given that your early team will be made up of doers — people who like to solve problems “the marines”. Failure to help the team grasp this, will most likely result in decisions getting bottlenecked.

Start preparing for how you’ll hire the people who will help you scale — these are your “town-planners”. It’ll be challenging because you’ll need to find people who understand that their jobs will change over time as the business evolves.

As you begin to experience the first signs of scale, you’ll need to start (or begin thinking about) fundraising to fuel your growth. Ensuring to always have a “working deck in progress”, helps as it avoids having to trawl through backlogs to pull something compelling together in the midst of all the chaos.

On the types of friction you’ll encounter…

The first thing to note is that some of your “earlier employees will leave”, “things will crack or break”, and one of these things will most likely be a breakdown in communication.

Communication underpins all of your company’s functions. As you scale, If it’s not prioritised, it’ll become completely unmanageable. Communicating with a team of <50 is pretty organic and easy to do. When your team is in the 100s and/or remote, you can expect a breakdown in the flow of information. As you’re likely to have few (of the right) processes in place, you’ll be working to reduce the complexity and uncertainty that will arise.

You’ll need to consider what is being communicated, who is it being communicated to, how will it be communicated and which tools will be used. Ultimately, as you scale and the team grows, consistency is key.

On scaling creativity and process…

Avoid process for the sake of process. The overall feeling was that you should aim to put processes in place when things start to crack, but before they break in irreparable ways.

The goal of introducing process is to give the entire team a step by step guide to the way things need to be done. Clear instructions is the fastest way to ensure you’re all executing (and singing) from the same playbook.

Process allows creativity to flourish as without it, there will be confusion and inconsistency which will ultimately, turn into mayhem.

(Final thoughts) On the benefit of hindsight and one thing they’d do differently…

  • Hire a Head of People earlier in the journey. The right person will help you map out the hires to be made and when, and to help identify the right resources needed to ensure the continuous development of your existing team.
  • Use titles sparingly. Avoid giving away inflated titles at the outset as when the time comes to scale and bring in more senior specialists to lead a specific team, some of the earlier employees in that team might feel slighted. Setting expectations earlier on with the team about the stage the company is in now vs where it’s going to be in ‘x’ number of months and what that structure will look like in terms of hiring people in etc, will be essential to minimising any misunderstanding further donw the line.
  • Focus on the key activities that move your business forward. Decide whether you’ll be focusing on your business model, or value proposition, or customer, and/or marketing strategy. Once clear on this, you’ll need to perform a balancing act of both short-term cash-flow with longer term innovation projects.
  • Give thought to which processes you create and focus on implementing systems that will work when you change from “nailing to scaling”.
  • Codify your business functions as soon as possible. Identify bottlenecks, friction points, or labor-intensive and repetitive tasks and turn these into a process.

The key sentiment I was left with was that the reality communication is the key — you’ll need more roles, more hierarchy, more process. It’s unavoidable. And without strong communication in place, the wheels, doors and bonnet will eventually fall off!




Head of Network, Brand & Culture Ops @ Connect Ventures #whereproductfoundersfit. Lover of start-ups, appreciator of culture, food & travel...

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Keji Mustapha

Keji Mustapha

Head of Network, Brand & Culture Ops @ Connect Ventures #whereproductfoundersfit. Lover of start-ups, appreciator of culture, food & travel...

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