writes copy 06 Sep 2019

5 deceptions to watch out for when your startup scales

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Startups that are taking off are super attractive - to talent and to investors. Much of the early stage journey is about figuring out the path to scaling fast. And once you’ve figured it out, once the organics are pouring in, when word of mouth is out there, investors are chasing you, it feels as though nothing can go wrong. Incidentally, this is the deception of growth. Because a lot can go wrong at this point... When things aren’t working, you know there is a lot to fix. But when they do work, what is it that you should focus on? What can bring down a rocket ship?

Here are a few pointers that can help your startup scale with caution:

Overworked founding team

If demand and capital are taken care of, an overworked bunch of people can be the top reason why start-ups fail. When the founding team de-prioritises hiring or prioritises it but rushes through the process, it can often result in poor quality hires or no hires at all, and a culture where nothing moves forward unless founders get involved themselves. Doing everything is easily the recipe for failure. Overworked founders are unable to inspire, unable to network and gather ideas and unable to think out-of-the-box. If you are growing fast, the founding team should be spending atleast 30 percent of their time hiring and what’s more? Always be hiring. Keep looking for talent that can take the burden off you and execute independently, so you can think! 

Communication breakdown

This is without a doubt, the mother of all problems. Most high growth startup offices look like busy airports. Everybody is hustling, running from one meeting to another; busy focusing on getting to their destination on time, but hardly spending time discussing what matters. There isn’t any time to discuss employee morale, never enough time to talk about whether the company is headed in the right direction and worst of all, never any time to discuss how the culture of the company is shaping up. Invariably, most downfalls begin here.

Some of the best founders I have come across are very sensitive to communication breakdowns and set up time for all hands with their team (no matter how small or large the team) encouraging tough questions and transparent feedback. In addition, they set up regular leadership meetings to discuss issues, competitive landscape and out-of-the-box ideas. But most importantly, the right founders ask the right questions and that’s how they establish the right communication protocol in their company. I believe there are three questions a founder should always ask his team:

1. Are you enjoying working here?

2. Are you worried about our (the company's) future? if so, why?

3. Is anything keeping you from punching above your weight? If so, how can I help?

Poor customer support

Customer support/customer service is often a de-prioritised function in start-ups that are growing rapidly. You can never hire enough support staff, there is generally high churn in this function and ensuring quality is extremely difficult. Amidst all that growth where so much needs to be done, just to keep the ship running, customer support can take a backseat. In a hyper competitive market though (which is generally the case in spaces where you find hyper-growth startups), if your competition is offering better support, and most features look the same, better support could become the one reason your competition wins. If you know you are in a hyper growth market, invest in support early:

1. Integrate chatbots; automate the responses to standard questions.

2. Have contextual FAQs where possible.

3. Hire a customer support head sooner than later.

Poor attention to detail

Again, in competitive markets, where features and products start to look the same, experience can make all the difference. These are aspects you don’t see in the app. In the case of e-commerce, for instance, delivery times and ease of returns matter a lot. In content apps, this could mean a better, more intuitive discovery process with personalised feed. In the case of cabs, lower ETAs are another example. It is easy to ignore these finer aspects that impact experience in markets where there is a strong pull. And this is where competition takes over. Hire a head of customer experience. This person is responsible for working across functions to constantly ensure a superlative customer experience. This person is constantly thinking: “Why would the customer choose us?”

Lack of experimentation

In hyper-growth companies, one of three things can happen:

1. All the focus remains on growth – fuelling it and managing it and little to no attention is paid to moon-shot ideas.

2. There is fear of breaking down what’s working and the search for perfection leads to very slow releases!

3. There is never enough time to try anything new.

Avoid the trap. Remember the all hands I mentioned earlier? Use it to get ideas from the team. There are many ways to find time and allocate resources:

> Companies like Zynga organised weekend hackathons for people to roll out MVPs of their gaming concepts and to pitch them internally.

> In the early days, create the culture of “whiteboard length specs.” If the feature spec cannot be written and drawn on the whiteboard, it’s already too complicated. Implement an A/B testing framework early on, so rapid experimentation is easier!

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

(Edited by Suruchi Kapur- Gomes)

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