Author: Francesca Lavey, a Professional Services Director at Ciklum with over 10 years experience working with early stage, scaling and large multinational clients on their digital strategy.
Finding success as a startup doesn’t happen overnight. For every story about a great idea that started off in a garage and went on to IPO, there are dozens of others that chronicle the sleepless nights, worries over funding, and tireless labour poured into a final product. Startups that have found success know that getting a product to market is only the beginning. In order for tech startups to flourish in the market, startups must sustain adequate growth in order to meet growing customer demand.
Here are some of the typical challenges that tech startups face while scaling up development and growing user bases — and some insights into how these problems can be overcome:
Mark Zuckerberg’s “Move fast and break things” mantra has long been followed by fast-growing companies in Silicon Valley. The mindset makes sense for scrappy dorm-room upstarts rushing a good idea to the market as quickly as possible and intending to deal with the negative ramifications somewhere down the line.
For companies that have pursued this path, “somewhere down the line” could end up being the growth mode. In order to accommodate greater demand, issues once swept under the rug may finally need to be addressed to deliver a functional product and quality customer service.
This is especially true when it comes to technology. Shortsighted IT infrastructure and quick development hacks may have pushed a product out quickly, but underlying technology issues can end up being the Achilles’ heel of a company’s long-term product strategy. Early Twitter users, for instance, had become accustomed to experiencing the famous “fail whale” when the service was unable to cope with demand, forcing the social network to revamp its underlying infrastructure ahead of its IPO introduction.
Bugs and service outages may have been somewhat forgivable when a startup was serving a small number of early users, but customers paying a more-established company don’t deserve to be treated like guinea pigs. Building a forward-thinking IT infrastructure can help prevent future headaches from interrupting operations down the line.
Employees at startups are often asked to wear several hats. As a cash-strapped startup with a limited number of employees, it’s not uncommon for the roles of .NET, Java, C++ developer, copywriter, and customer service agent to be filled by the same person. Indeed, the ability to handle multiple roles simultaneously with speed and dexterity can give startups a competitive edge as they carve out a niche in the marketplace.
But once a startup has sustained a reasonable amount of growth, the “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” approach may no longer make good business sense. A growing business requires experts dedicated to the task at hand, and employees who once had to handle an expanding palette of responsibilities should be able to return to overseeing their particular domain.
While it might seem counterintuitive to ask existing employees to give up responsibilities, allowing workers to focus on using their core skills can help startups run streamlined, intelligent operations.
For a startup in growth mode, too much demand can be a good problem to have. Meeting that demand, however, may pose a different problem entirely — not having enough staff.
Dacadoo, a global health technology company, began as a small startup in Switzerland. After developing a unique, mobile-first health engagement platform in 2010, Dacadoo realized it needed to begin scaling up its team in order to keep up with market demands. But because the Swiss labour market wasn’t responsive enough, Dacadoo was left without the talent it needed to take the company to the next level.
In 2011, Dacadoo partnered with Ciklum to expand its capabilities with a team of remote workers. Beginning with a small team of front-end developers, Ciklum helped to grow the remote workforce into a staff of 40 people. Now augmented with a full roster of back-end developers and DevOps experts, Dacadoo was able to use Ciklum to scale up to a truly global team.
Small but successful startups often have a laserlike focus on delivering a particular solution. Inevitably, as a product becomes more popular, it can require a larger team to effectively develop, market, and manage the product’s future success. As teams grow, mission creep can ultimately set in, leading to longer lead times, disjointed work processes, and poor internal communication.
Ensuring that each team remains focused on outcomes that matter to users is essential to overcoming growth challenges. Idea-to-production cycle times must be reduced, cumbersome teams should be broken up into smaller groups, and technology-based teams should be assigned a specific product on a particular platform. Rather than sticking to a rigid set of operational principles, startups should be willing to reassess bottlenecks that hamper productivity in order to remain agile at work and in the marketplace.
While in growth mode, it’s tempting for startups to want to become as large as possible. Greater demand calls for more resources to meet customer needs, requiring that startups capture as much talent as necessary in order to keep pace.
Growing too quickly, however, can overwhelm and ultimately doom a startup without proper planning. Startups tend to fail when they haven’t found the proper market fit, and adding too much bloat without a clear strategy can leave a company without the ability to remain nimble and agile enough to respond to market changes.
On-demand, scalable teams can help solve this problem. Rather than hiring full-time team members dedicated to development, communications, and other roles important to fast-growing companies, scalable teams allow startups to bring in additional resources when necessary — and, crucially, to scale back when they’re no longer needed.
eToro, the world’s leading social trading network that serves more than 12 million users in 140 countries, uses Ciklum’s digital services to carry out research and development, communications, and sales tasks on demand. Back-end developers, front-end developers, and sales conversion experts help eToro turn its concepts into full-fledged fintech solutions through a flexible and dynamic group of skilled workers ready to solve problems at a moment’s notice.