How founders react to scaling their companies (& how they should)

Growth is hard. Like a fear of heights or a fear of small spaces, scaling up a company can be a daunting thought for many startup founders. In fact, a recent study by Highland Europe confirmed that half of the founders interviewed believed that it was their ability to manage growth or adapt strategy that would lead to failure for their startup when it began to scale up.

So, what’s up?

When you typically read about stories of startup failure, it comes down to fundraising and the ability to manage capital. But this study seems to indicate the opposite – it shows that founders themselves blame failure on their ability to manage.

As the survey below shows, two of the biggest perceived hurdles to growth are finding senior talent and customer acquisition as a company grows. But these threats stem from a broader reaction from startup leaders: the worry over transforming from founder to CEO.

Becoming the CEO of a rapidly growing company seems daunting on paper – the vast task of satisfying an increasing number of stakeholders, balancing risks and rewards, and maintaining a creative vision for the company. Customer acquisition, attracting senior talent and other worries cited in the study are by products of this fear.

Gordon Willoughby, CEO of file transfer service WeTransfer, has described his company as being “squarely in the ‘scale-up’ phase”, but already experiencing many of the organisational infrastructure and capability hurdles mentioned.

Is it all bad news for founders?

Absolutely not. Being startup founders by definition means that these kind of people do not give up on making a success of their vision.

The report also confirmed that startup founders are indeed optimistic, with two thirds believing that their company had unicorn potential. The mere idea of scaling up is a fantasy for most founders, but it seems they are equally as aware of the pitfalls of growth as its rewards.

The ability to hire senior talent, manage cash flow and adapt strategically are part of this transition from founder to CEO as a company scales. Founders need to see themselves not as the biggest risk to scaling up their company, but the biggest asset for successful growth.

How founders can adapt to scaling up

Scaling up a startup is a big test for any founder, and so it’s easy to understand why so many feel belittled by such a task. But…it doesn’t have to be!

Yes, you guessed it…we have put together a few tips. Here at LevelUp, we deal with scale ups all the time and we’ve seen how to adapt from the frontline. Enjoy!

1) Keep delegating

At some point, you have to realise that you can’t do everything yourself and that you may actually be putting your business at risk by spreading yourself too thin. We get it…founders feel very attached to their companies and want to be in charge of every aspect from the office decor to the nitty gritty financials.

But as a wiseman once said, surround yourself more qualified than yourself. A successful founder should recognise the challenges to growth and the people who are best suited to tackle them head on.

2) Track your time

With so many things to do from walk the dog to perfect the pitch, being a startup founder can seem like an endless task. And with all that on your plate, who cared about what time you spend on each?

Wrong. You don’t have to meticulously log timesheets every 10 minutes, but try to keep a record of what you’re working on and how long it takes you to complete it. This is a key part in working out the pain points of your business and where you are wasting yourvaluable time.

3) Try not to multitask too much

Ahh multitasking…the coveted holy grail of startup life – the inescapable urge to prove to the world you are the bastion of dedication to your project.

Again…wrong. Researchers believe that just 2% of people have the right brainpower to be competent “supertankers”, while the rest of us see our productivity drop when we try to do multiple things at once. So do yourself and your company a favour as you scale by managing projects one-by-one. Use any tools necessary to make life easier but please dont do everything at once.

4) Don’t sweat the small stuff

This tip sounds like the name of some 90s pop chart hit, but it’s actually very crucial to scaling up with success. Few people choose to found a company to sample the joys of financial admin, secretarial paperwork, email management and data filing.

So don’t end up spending the majority of your time doing these very tasks rather than focusing on leading your company. Delegate these low-level tasks to someone else on the team or even just automate the s@#t out of them. Less time spent on form filling is more time spent on managing your company’s growth.

Starting a company is hard enough, but scaling it up presents a whole new suite of challenges. The problems outlined in the survey show that the transition from scrappy founder to growth-managing CEO is a big one for many. Everything from customer acquisitor to cash flow can be effectively grown, if a founder keeps control over themselves.

The key to founders’ adaptability is inherently personal. Keep a firm grip over the company’s vision, manage and adapt your workflow to growth, and know when to delegate and who to hire. If anyone can bounce back, up and sideways, it’s a startup founder so get out there and scale up your company 🙂