Column: How to prepare to scale a startup
Editor’s Note: Each week, Fast Company presents an advice column by Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay. Webb offers candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at email@example.com.
Q. I’ve been working hard, and my company is finally starting to win. How do I ensure that I’m ready for the next stage of the journey?
-CEO of Series B company that is starting to scale fast
First of all, congrats. You have a business that’s spinning. That’s amazing.
Now your biggest worry is, can you keep up?
This is a great worry to have. After all, which problem would you rather be solving for—not doing well, or wondering if you are capable of leading to the next stages of success?
Most people would rather be in your shoes. A long time ago, founders often got replaced quickly when venture-backed companies hit scaling mode. The VCs would bring in seasoned executives to scale. Then, about 10-15 years ago, investors and VCs became much more founder-friendly and they now work with founders to help them scale and have them stay as long as possible.
Yes, it’s hard to go from managing a few people to managing hundreds, and then thousands. It demands very different skills, but it’s learnable and it’s been done. The biggest thing for you to acknowledge is that this is a high-class problem that you are capable of solving. You’ve already gone from nothing to relevance. Now you can get to scale.
There are all kinds of ways to tackle what’s ahead of you. Instead of worrying, it’s best to focus on learning. One of the best ways is to get guidance from someone who has successfully transitioned through this stage. Ask questions. Find other founders who have made the transition and ask your VCs to connect you to them.
You will also benefit by hiring others who have done this before. Sure, it’s great to promote from within, and these have been some of my best “hires,” but hiring for specific experience is invaluable at this stage.
As companies achieve success, they inevitably see new challenges and frustrations. This is natural. Realizing this, build rigor around you—to self-assess, and to know where you are going and what it will look like when you get there. The way you inspire, communicate, and measure all has to get more systemic. It’s about communicating more, setting goals, and monitoring so that you can get alignment. The methodology for doing that is varied and you can figure out which works for you. It’s not rocket science—it’s discipline.
And as hard as scaling is, if you plan to make your company successful, there’s simply no alternative. You have the vision and the spirit, now stop worrying about it and get to work. After all, there are many ways to get to excellence, but it always takes hard work.