If I have to emphasize what the most important thing I have learned during the past 8 years is, it would definitely be that the requirements for starting your own design business or developing any new idea from scratch are totally different than those necessary for growing a company exponentially.
For this reason, many founders can have a brilliant idea, take it to the market, and prove it works, but very few have the virtues and knowledge required to transform it into an empire such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, etc. To turn an idea into a reality is the first step, build it to a global scale so that everyone in the world can use it is the last step.
In the following I would like to share the essential requirements needed to successfully transform a startup into a big company:
As with all new business ventures, at the beginning, there is no defined structure. To use an example, if we are 8 engineers working to successfully program the initial idea, all 8 will report directly to the CEO. There are no intermediate layers of project managers, nor anything of the like, thus, it is a flat structure. This is truly the best way to start off and I recommend it 100% because it is the ideal structure for achieving the greatest possible amount of productivity.
However, when we surpass the mark of approximately 20 employees, it is time to begin to minimally set a structure in order to be correctly organized. I strongly recommend not standing around and doing nothing until we start to see that the flat structure is a problem and a real headache. What works successfully for zero to twenty employees will be a total disaster and catastrophe when we reach 25 (twenty five) and this was precisely our first lesson that we learned in our own business venture eMT 5 years ago.
How to solve this? When we are growing our start-up and we reach 20 employees, it is time to put in place a simple structure which without fail needs to be put in place before hiring the 21st employee. The organization should be based on groups of no more than 5 people (which have similar tasks) in which each reports to just one project director, who in turn reports to just one person, explaining them the results achieved, ideally the CEO. Without a doubt, each employee should have just one person to report to for their work done.
Note: In this stage we should understand as founders that our principal job passes from being building a great product to building a great company.
When starting out, hiring experienced managers is not a good idea, what we need are people that do their jobs effectively such as: writing code, answering customer service calls, etc. However, when we exceed 20 people, it is the right time to hire managers with experience and we should not be afraid if they are older than us the founders, on the contrary, their knowledge of how to handle people will help us greatly.
When we delegate work, especially to those experienced managers that come on board with our company to help us grow and expand, we should not tell them what it is that they should do nor how to do it. Conversely, we should explain to them that we hired them because we know they are intelligent and gifted, then explain the problem and give them freedom so that they can decide what to do and how to solve it. This is without a doubt the best way to delegate in today’s world.
The biggest problem that we saw while our company grew was that the productivity level decreased. Exactly the same thing that happens when we have two programmers working on the same project and we think that adding two more will mean doing the job in half the time. Every experienced developer knows this is not the case. The productivity per person lowers because it involves a cost in communication and coordination as Brooks’ Law clearly indicates.
In order to eliminate this problem as much as possible while growing our company, what I recommend is that each person knows by memory what is the course of the path to be followed in the coming 6 months and additionally what are the 3 most important goals to achieve. In this way, everyone will be going in the same direction. Important: as simple as this may seem, correctly coordinating everyone to be headed in the same direction is a huge challenge.
On the other hand, on the level of productivity, it is essential that as founders we define the company values as soon as possible. The goal of this is for all of the employees to have a context in which they can make the same decisions that one of the founders would make without us (the founders) being involved in every aspect of the business.
In order to do this successfully, when the moment comes to write all the procedures necessary for delegating to other people the work they should do and thus be able to grow our business, we should not only explain to them step by step “how” to successfully carry out the procedure, but also we should explain the “why” we do it this way and not another. They “why” we do a specific procedure will in this way in the long run define something fundamental: the culture of our company.
In the beginning, all new founders think that if an ad appears in a big national newspaper, in a well-known magazine or on television, success will come automatically. But experienced entrepreneurs already know that this is not true, and that the most important thing is the quality of our service which we offer day by day with complete dedication.
But when we begin to expand our business, we should go from not caring at all about the press to caring just a little. The first thing we should do in this area, which is the responsibility of the founders, is to discover for ourselves what is the message that our business venture will give to the rest of the world.
Once our message is out there, it will always be defined in this way and thus it will be very difficult to change once the press has decided how they will talk about us. For this reason, we should determine it from day one, internally, and not let an advertising agency or a third party do it for us.
Perhaps many are against this personal argument, but my recommendation is NOT to hire a marketing agency, but to simply have the founder be directly connected to one, two, or a maximum of five editors of large media outlets in order to exclusively release the recent news of our company. The reason for this: no editor wants to interview or talk to an advertising agency, they prefer to have direct contact with the CEO.
In conclusion, I can assure that the task of growing a business is equal to or more important than creating a new product from scratch, because creating something valuable does not mean we have already reached success, the biggest challenge is that which comes with building a grand company that represents our legacy in the world when we are no longer here.
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