Growth mode is a great place for startups to (finally) be, but getting bigger also has challenges including letting go of products that may be a drag on the business and maintaining a corporate culture that defines your brand.
Founders of a trio of successful North American startups, each at different stage of growth, sat down at the recent Traction conference in Vancouver to talk about their “Journey Through Growth.”
The discussion was kicked off by Rahul Sood, CEO of sports-betting site Unikrn, describing how the soul of a company is its brand, the characteristics of which are driven by the founders. Sood says founders need to establish a corporate culture for the brand from the start, and stick with it through it through each stage of growth.
“The founder of the company has to really set the tone, and constantly go back to that question of: What made us who we are? And then you have to make that resonate through your team,” Sood says. “People inside your company are a living/breathing example of culture.”
For example, at Unikrn, Sood says employees share an interest in playing video games and making small bets—like $20 on the Seattle Seahawks. It fits the brand.
Andrew Reid, founder of customer management software company Vision Critical, which has grown to more than 600 employees (after recently divesting its marketing research consulting division with 200 employees), says maintaining culture becomes more difficult as you grow.
“It took us a lot time to realize that we had fallen out of touch with articulating what our values are,” Reid says. “If I could do it all over again, we would have done that way sooner.”
About 2.5 years ago, he says the Vancouver-based company decided to make culture a priority. That included developing a set of values and cultural beliefs, and making sure it was supported at the top. Reid says he spends about a quarter of his time making sure the company is honouring those values.
“It’s not about cool T-shirts or logo wear. It’s about having people buy into what you’re doing,” Reid says. It’s about giving employees “a sense of purpose.”
The bonus: Reid says having strong values is also a good way to select new employees, and retain them.
David Barrett, CEO of cloud-based accounting software company Expensify, says companies should focus more on culture when hiring — and firing. It can help to build stronger, more productive and innovative teams.
“You end of with a group of people who are incredible,” Barrett says.
The panelists also talked about the importance of focusing on the best-performing products to fuel growth.
Reid says Vision Critical has abandoned products with steady revenues streams, because they were stretching themselves too thin.
“We decided it made more sense to kill those products and do the best we could at one product,” Reid says. “That was really hard to do … For us, it was all about focus.”
Today, he says the company is getting ready to launch more products, but they needed to make that change back in 2012 to get to this spot today.
“It really is focus,” says Sood, who sold a previous company, Voodoo PC, to HP in 2006.
Voodoo also began it work on too many things, Sood says, before deciding to concentrate on gaming.
“If you’re an early stage company … you need to find that one focus and just go nail it – that one scenario you can do really well at, and excel at and go deep,” Sood says. “Then you can scale your business from there.”