Startup talk is everywhere – from blogs to conferences, everyone’s curious about how to get their very own business running. From product innovation to mitigating risk, there’s a great deal of thought that is put into making a startup a successful reality.
But what about maintaining it as a company that’s capacitated for growth? Conversation pertaining to startup scaling isn’t as common. But once you’ve established a decent foothold, you know it’s time to expand. How does one get started on this endeavour, though?
Allow us to touch a few bases here. The points below are a combination of factors that need to be achieved/addressed in order to start scaling, or generic blueprints on how to conduct a scaling operation in one or more areas of your business. So let’s get started!
Your primary product/product offering is the cornerstone of your business. After all, that is why you took the initiative to start your own venture, right? As the owner of a startup, it’s safe to presume that confidence in the idea surrounding your product, and the value it brings to people, has been the foundation and justification for starting one in the first place.
That is why it is wise to perfect your product before you decide to scale. In fact, where your product stands both in terms of offering as well as in the market will determine whether you should take the plunge to scale, or wait it out.
First things first…
Do you have a Minimum Viable Product set in place? An MVP constitutes the bare essentials of your website or mobile app. It’s always advisable to start small, irrespective of the size of your project. While establishing the MVP will constitute a bulk of the work, you need to ensure that it has also been positively accepted by the market.
The basic framework of your app will seldom be workable or receptive to the masses, on the very first go; a few iterations based on user feedback will be required to perfect your MVP. After that, you still need to track the receptiveness of your product; once it reaches a level where it garners positive acclaim from your target audiences and brings in a fair amount of revenue, it is time to think about scaling such that your revenue can be maximised, while keeping your users engaged.
How can this possibly be done?
While this depends on your product specialty, a general rule-of-thumb involves the gradual expansion of your product offering. Adding a feature or two into your existing product can offer additional value/convenience to your already established target audience. On top of that, getting accustomed to the new feature can also be easy on both you (the business owner) as well as your customer. But in order to ascertain what is needed for product expansion, you need to focus on the next point.
It’s common knowledge that focusing on select audiences that have been narrowed down based on varying demographics or interests can reap more lucrative results (especially when it comes to digital marketing). However, taking a break from this rule during the early stages of introducing your brand to the market can help you to identify who is for and against your product – even if you have mapped out a target audience and/or a buyer persona.
This means that it is more sensible to reach out to wider audiences in the early stages, as opposed to narrower selections. Albeit having a solid buyer persona, it’s nearly impossible to predict accuracy of the same. This is one of the hallmark lessons of UI/UX – there is no way to accurately predict our target users. As much of a surprise as it can be, it is the folks who you do not expect to engage with your app eventually do – and the ones you expected to? Well, they simply don’t.
Use the initial analysis to scale.
Upon reaching out to wider audiences and observing which audiences are lucrative, you can escalate your marketing efforts by generating campaigns (and conducting product development) that specifically targets those user sets. This is what will constitute scaling your startup from a marketing perspective.
Software and IT systems
There’s no doubt that you will need a comprehensive suite of software and hardware such as servers to build and run your digital product. While some of these requirements can be handled by a third-party entity, all your software and IT needs have to fulfil the following in order to ensure scalability, be it in the near or distant future.
Space for integration.
This can include anything from integrating with social media to automate marketing efforts, to collaborating with other forms of software for greater efficiency, analysis and decision-making. AI and machine learning features in particular, for example, are abundant in almost any software solution today. Whether it’s a specialised piece of software that is only meant to undertake responsibilities pertaining to one business unit (such as a Marketing Automation or CRM system) or something more holistic (such as an ERP), you need to ensure that there is room to accommodate additional features and functionalities if your company expands in the future.
Fortunately, modern enterprise software solutions are flexible to scale up as well as down, while being economical at the same time. In today’s day and age, legacy systems are a no-no due to their lack of versatility – especially when it comes to data analysis.
The truth about servers and storage
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions are popular today for a reason. They can be easily deployed and extended at a budget, precisely as described above. The secret to their versatility though, lies in being hosted over the Cloud. Presenting real-time access and updates, Cloud computing has definitely redefined the way we work with our data. The caveat however, lies in the lack of proprietary ownership of an otherwise third-party server. On-site servers, on the flipside, provide your business the proprietary ownership that a Cloud-based system simply cannot.
But this doesn’t mean that you need to shift to an on-site server as soon as you decide that it’s time to scale. While yes, it is important for your company to expand and grow, remember that less is always more in the context of startups. If the Cloud is serving your data needs for the time being, then feel free to carry on as is. In the event your company requires large amounts of storage, an on-site server may just end up being more feasible at that point in time.
If you do need to migrate from the Cloud to your very own server, don’t forget about data migration! This is especially important for ERPs, as improper migration can lead to incompleteness and/or corruption, causing implementation to fail.
Even with the most ingenious product innovation or sophisticated technology, people are and always will be your biggest asset. Who you hire and for what matters very much, needless to say. But it’s also important to remind startup owners to only hire for tasks that absolutely require professional attention.
There’s no need for the middle man.
This means that certain employees on a hierarchical level won’t be required, such as middle managers. It’s all in the interest of saving costs and maximising bottom line growth, especially if your startup is still in its infancy. However, it’s wise to adhere to the same rule even when you’re looking to expand. This is because many administrative tasks can be automated for added convenience. From customer service chatbots to automatic invoicing, only the tasks that really matter (such as strategic or analytical duties) can be best left to professional (human) expertise.
Give everyone the chance to contribute.
Another point to stress on when it comes to maintaining a scalable startup culture is to allow all your team members to voice their opinions. This is practical in such a context, as only a small number of members exist in your team in the first place. This means that opinions can be sought from team members who don’t specialise in a particular business unit, for alternate perspectives and greater insight. For example, asking your sales team what they think about the proposition for a new feature on your app can spark multiple viewpoints for your programming team to consider.
From a business standpoint, tech startups have always fostered a work culture that’s comparatively less bureaucratic than other market sectors. In fact, many tasks and objectives overlap ever more so in the tech industry, on an inter-departmental level. Reminiscent of the hackathon culture, this is where your startup can also receive an edge. Where we hail from, numerous web development companies in Sri Lanka have also jumped into the hackathon bandwagon, and it’s the norm to see startups here give all team members the equal opportunity to give their two cents on what they think – for greater clarity, quality and turnover.
Summing it all up…
There is much buzz around starting your own venture – from workshops that help stimulate innovative thinking to conferences that morally motivate those who are too afraid or wary of taking the big step. Little guidance exists around established startups, and how to scale them up once they’re up and running.
The manner in which you make your startup more scalable and the rate at which you do so depends on numerous factors, namely your revenue and product speciality. Irrespective of the intricacies, these general guidelines will assist you to get some perspective on what you’ll need to scale, when and by how much: