- Steve Blank
We avidly follow the stories of startups that become unicorns like Shopify, Uber, or Airbnb. Especially as a first-time founder at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, those companies seem to hold some secret of success.
You have the potential to become a Shopify. But as a startup, you’re radically different from that future vision. Whereas a mature company is working to consistently apply a known business model and manage a high degree of complexity, your purpose is to find the right business model to accelerate your growth.
Your organization will have to change radically to transition through each stage of growth, reflecting evolving needs for strategy, talent, marketing, sales, culture, or management.
These transitions can be challenging if you’re not anticipating them. Founders can end up making poor decisions at later stages because they’re inured in the startup phase. As such, you could become an impediment to success when reality demands new perspectives, new priorities, and new skills.
Consider the changing needs for talent as your company grows. No matter the stage of growth, your company accomplishes its priorities through the recruitment and retention of people whose skills and culture-fit match at a certain point in your company’s development. Consequently, the kind of talent and leadership you need will change as your company grows.
In its early stages, your small team needs to be able to live with uncertainty and risk. Everyone needs to work tremendously hard for little money with the hope of a windfall from owning shares. But what happens when you find your product-market fit and start to see steady growth?
Vision, smarts and grit got you this far. But as a CEO of a scaling company you need to have knowledge and depth in the leadership of a complex organization. You need to be more strategic in your thinking, not always in the weeds, firefighting. You need to develop people strategies to ensure you can manage growth with the right people. You need to work on your governance issues - policies, procedures, building a Board of Directors… and much more.
As the founder, you may not be the right leader to take the organization to the next step once the company is scaling. First employees may no longer share the vision or bring the depth or type of skills that you need. Your shareholders may demand more experienced management to lead the company toward a sustainable, profitable future.
As a founder, think about what you’re good at. What do you enjoy doing? Do you love the chaotic, startup phase of your company but not so much management in the scaleup phase? Then start another company. Otherwise, educate yourself on the needs of a new phase in your company’s journey. Seek out advisors to help you.
Be proud of what you and your team accomplish no matter what changes unfold as your startup evolves. Often it’s not easy to see your accomplishments in the chaos of building. Entrepreneurship is challenging but you and your team will leave your legacy in overcoming those challenges – including responding to the changing needs of your company and your team at each step on your journey to success.
Heather Crosbie works with technology entrepreneurs to build companies scaling to have a global footprint. She also teaches entrepreneurship at various ventureLAB partner organizations. Her career has been spent as an entrepreneur and business leader in startup, scaling and mature retail organizations through times of growth and times of existential threats. She has an MBA from the Richard Ivy School of Business.
ventureLAB is a leading global founder community for hardware technology and enterprise software companies in Canada. Located at the heart of Ontario’s innovation corridor in York Region, ventureLAB is part of one of the biggest and most diverse tech communities in Canada. Our initiatives focused on raising capital, talent retention, commercializing technology and IP, and customer acquisition have enabled thousands of companies to create over 4,500 jobs and raise more than $200 million in investment capital. At ventureLAB, we grow globally competitive tech titans that build-to-scale in Canada, for global markets.