Last week, we gathered some of Boston’s brightest innovators at the CIC Cambridge. The topic of the night? How to effectively scale your startup. From early stage to completely developed, we covered it all. Here are a few of the big takeaways for early stage and established startups:
Our first panel session featured several early stage startup influencers and was moderated by Zoë Barry, CEO and Founder of ZappRx. The discussion flowed through discussing initial product ideas, how they gained their first customers, and who they looked to for advice during their journey. Our panelists – Amy Spurling, Mike Volpe, Ellen Rubin and Paul Brewer – shared their insights; here are 3 of the big pieces of advice.
Get your product out as soon as possible.
ClearSky CEO and Founder Ellen Rubin, who introduced herself as one of those “insane serial entrepreneurs,” said that one of the things to prioritize when scaling your business is getting the product out as soon as possible, so potential customers can start giving feedback; in this regard, Amy Spurling pointed out that the initial product idea will continue to evolve while the business scales.
Find a way to maintain open communication while growing.
When it comes to communication as your company is growing, Cybereason CMO Volpe said while transparency can be easy when your company is just five people in the same room, it will become something that you have to more actively embrace as the company gets bigger. That means a company had to find the right tools to maintain that transparency, Amy Spurling said, because at a certain point “reply all” stops working for companies that reach a certain size. Rubin added that it’s important for a CEO to repeat the same thing over and over again in front of employees, so that everyone hears the same message, no matter where they are.
Keep connector personalities in your network.
Volpe stressed the importance of having in your network three to four “connector types,” people who can introduce you to the right person at the right moment (the type of people that Malcom Gladwell defines “connectors” as opposed to “mavens” and “salespeople” in his book The Tipping Point).
Our mid-stage/established panel was made up of Rob Biederman, John Davagian, Fady Saad and Paul Brewer. During the second session, panelists discussed how to define the moment when a business is officially scaling, how to build a support system and how to hire the right people to grow the team. A few main insights came from the discussion.
Be intentional on how you grow your team.
When growing the team, Paul Brewer pointed out that not always top performers have the right skills to become managers, so promoting them shouldn’t be automatic. Instead, CEOs should assign them smaller tasks (such as leading a corporate meeting) to get a sense if they have the leadership skills to be promoted. As companies become larger over time, John Davagian said they have to go from hiring “MacGyvers” who can do anything to roles that are cover specific functions. Another challenge for larger organizations is providing them with a constant challenge so they can continue to grow, Davagain added. Otherwise, employees who don’t feel engaged enough might leave. Biederman added that it’s critical to move up employees who develop a mastery in certain skills.
Prioritize spending when growing your company.
A piece of advice that Rob Biederman gave to the audience was to spend as little money as possible to get to the next step; in other words, to make a clear distinction between the top priorities and the things that “would be lovely to do after the next round” of funding, as he said.