Lessons from driving a scale-up in a startup mode

29th Dec 2016
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When you are an established company scaling up your revenue and making profits year on year, your organisation has built up its DNA. There are certain things your organisation is really good at, but what if your scale up suddenly needs a big transformation?

Let’s say new business models brought into the market by startups are threatening your scale up. You know you need to change as quickly as you can, but how soon can you change and at what cost?

Credit : Shutterstock
Credit : Shutterstock

I have been heading product management in an enterprise in the midst of scaling up, which was threatened by startups in the same space. Although the leadership strategy was to diversify risks and not hit these funded startups head-on in competition, we knew we had to change. Product management had to drive this change, starting from new user-facing products, supplier facing products, internal tools and processes, etc.

I want to share some lessons learned on driving a scale up into a startup mode:

#1 The word ‘experiment’ is looked down upon

Yes, your scale up needs to change drastically and nobody knows the right path towards this change. But by the very nature of a scale up the word “experiment” would bring you negative reactions. The reason is simple; you are just too big to simply experiment.

What can come to your rescue on experimentation is data. Use the existing data, no matter how roughly related it is to the rapid changes you are trying to make — simply look that much deeper.

#2 Lots of business rules need changes

You begin designing new solutions and processes, but as you dig deeper into the existing system, you will find plenty of business logic/rules. In a B2B space this can be years of client-specific customisations. With the new system and process, all this needs to change. Something that sounded easy earlier just becomes that much harder. Getting the perfect lean model now sounds almost impossible.

#3 Changes will be resisted

Yes, this is quite straightforward, but needs special mention here. Changes will be resisted due to a number of reasons. People will be scared of losing their jobs; people will just not be ready to believe in the new solution. They are simply used to doing things in a particular way.

Product managers need to be extra careful in not letting process issues slip through, but the senior leadership needs to make special arrangements across the organisation for the change to actually be adopted in the best way possible.

#4 Hiring strategies become a challenge

You are now suddenly trying to hire a different breed of talent. Let’s take the example of developers. You need developers who can create completely different applications of a high quality. Your hiring channels, compensation slabs, etc. are fit to providing you talent that can manage existing legacy applications. You need a big change here; this is a change that even your senior leadership is going to resist in most cases.

#5 Geographically-dispersed teams might lag behind

No matter how well connected your geographically-dispersed team is and how much effort you put in dispersing information, changes are going to be resisted and geographic distribution is going to be tough to manage. Teams that are closer to the technology team or headquarters will have an advantage; the other teams will need extra attention.

As a word of caution, these are general challenges that you can anticipate while you are on the exciting journey of driving a scale up in a startup mode. The risks are high and so is the resistance, but the right execution is going to bring great value. I hope these lessons are helpful. Feedback is welcome. Cheers!

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

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