Growing your business by >10X successful start-up scale is not for sissies. Success is so rare it’s become an elite club with a special name: Scale Ups (with the journey called ‘Scaling Up’). Scaling Up is where dreams get fulfilled, wealth gets created, and societies are impacted on a large scale. But even the very talented entrepreneurial teams get stuck in “No Man ‘s Land” – where they spend years inching forwards in a whirlwind of daily crises. There is a science to ‘Scaling Up’, which you need if you want to make it to the Promised Land. This series of posts gives a 101 on The Science of Scaling Up. It’s not typically light blog reading, but it’s not a typically light topic!
THE PATH TO SCALE
Before getting to ‘The Science of Scaling Up’, you have to understand why most really good start-ups fail at Scaling Up. Surprisingly, it’s not usually funding or a product or market failure by the time you’re Scaling Up.
Most action movies follow a predictable template: character intro; crisis; resolve to solve; action (and sex scenes); progress and pain; failure and despair; aha moment and second wind; the final showdown; triumph and happily ever after (optional sex scene)!
Similarly, Scale Ups initially follow a somewhat predictable path: brilliant idea / opportunity; exciting start; epic battle for revenue and funding; big breakthroughs; growth; more growth; descend into NO MAN’s LAND…
NO MAN’S LAND – A NECESSARY PIT STOP FOR SUCCESSFUL START-UPS
No Man’s Land is that space where you’re now too big to be small (no longer quicker, cheaper, better), but still too small to be big (scale, vast resources, blue chip brand). Here, founders hit a fork in the road because No Man’s Land is the place where ‘what got you here, won’t get you there’. Your past way of winning business, hiring, pricing your products, managing the team, running the business, executing – actually just about everything about the management of the business – will no longer work. For successful start-ups, there is no avoiding No Man’s Land. Getting there is a consequence of growth.
2 PATHS FOR SUCCESSFUL START-UPS
But once you hit No Man’s Land, the script can take one of 2 directions: one to victory, one to misery. Path A is the default choice: go straight. It’s defined by failing to adapt the way we run the business. Path B is the tricky left turn – hard to see and harder still to navigate – that requires a definite and courageous choice to change the way we do things, but is the only way to escape No Man’s Land and head on to the Promised Land (growth, mission-fulfilment, wealth).
THE SWAMP OF STUCKNESS
Alas, No Man’s Land is the graveyard of 80% of Scale Ups because most Scale Ups hustle past the left turn out of No Man’s Land without even noticing it. They continue with ‘start-up leadership’ and at some point along the road sink into ‘The Swamp of Stuckness’. The business crosses a critical tipping point where the level of complexity (sheer number of problems, decisions, tasks, meetings, emails) simply overwhelms the team, leaving them fighting endless daily fires (cash flow issues, operations issues, customer issues, team issues), struggling to get to the ‘things that matter’, resulting in even more fires, and often leading to despair. After this tipping point, it’s very hard (but still possible) to escape No Man’s Land.
The primary problem is most entrepreneurial teams don’t even know No Man’s Land exists. So they don’t know they need to turn off the path of start-up leadership and take a different road to escape No Man’s Land. So they don’t notice the sneaky little left turn along the way, they don’t take it, and they storm unwittingly into ‘The Swamp of Stuckness’, from whence their daily goal will become survival on a treadmill of never-ending problems.
ESCAPING NO MAN’S LAND
Over the next few posts I’ll blog about how to know when you’re in No Man’s Land and how to take the sneaky little left turn out of it – which means knowing and applying the Science of Scaling Up.