There are two phases of a startup: earning the right to scale and scaling.
What makes the leap from one to the other so challenging is that the approach to each needs to be vastly different and the skills needed aren’t as transferable as you’d expect.
Let me explain…
As a startup aims to earn the right to scale, the focus is on being able to make three statements:
- “We’ve created something that people want.” (Product/Market Fit)
- “We’re able to deliver that product to the market.” (At least somewhat scalable marketing channel)
- “We have the capital to support scaling.” (usually using the above two as proof points for investment)
At this stage, the focus is on executing, iterating, and learning the way there. Product development, sales, marketing, and fundraising skills are needed but most importantly nimbleness is key in answering: Can we create something of value?
This makes the earning the right to scale phase one that often has to be accomplished by a small group of people.
But then once you have something that works, you move to entirely different mode: Scaling.
As you scale, you certainly still need the hard-skills (product, sales, marketing, ops, etc.) that got you this far, but the risk is no longer in creating something of value.
The risk shifts to: How do we deliver this value to the world?
And doing that requires more and more people.
The team will grow, the customer base will grow, and as a result the complexity grows.
More humans = more complexity.
And this is why scaling is so hard, because scaling is largely an exercise in managing humans.
Scaling is about leaders effectively managing themselves, so they can then lead others.
Scaling is about building culture to create the backdrop for individuals and teams to give their best effort.
Scaling is about identifying and improving upon the processes & systems to keep the trains running on time (or at least keep the trains on the track).
The true challenge in scaling is in the soft skills needed to lead and build an organization of humans.