Sunday, June 15, 2014

Driving scale in a startup is about getting 3 things right




What is “scale”? Scale in a startup incorporates everything from who does the work, to what work is done and how that work is accomplished. It often involves tough decisions, not only in terms of the talent you keep and the talent you hire, but the projects and opportunities you engage and those you have to pass on. Scale is as much about what you do as what you stop doing. Driving scale comes at a critical point in the startup lifecycle. It requires raising the level of experience of the team and implementing new processes and organizational discipline. But the organization must simultaneously maintain the best of what works and avoid the trap of bureaucratic, cumbersome processes that impact the ability to move quickly and accelerate growth.

To me driving scale is about getting three things right:


  • Getting the right people,
  • working on the right things,
  • in the most efficient and effective way.

Getting the right people  When I joined HireVue in January 2013, I inherited a team of eight customer success managers. While their title was Customer Success, they really functioned as generalists managing everything from implementation and training to account management. As time permitted they focused on customer success management. It was the right model at the time, but growth was accelerating and it was clear that the team needed to scale. To scale this function we hired Kara Blumberg to build a Professional Services team and differentiate services from customer success, enabling a new level of focus and expertise. Over the course of the year the original team of eight generalists had grown to a team of 22 including dedicated Professional Services and three tiers of true Customer Success Management. This was fantastic growth but alone it wasn’t scale. True scaling is what you do with the headcount and resources that you have. It is one of the key management challenges of leading in a startup environment.


Working on the right things  In an early phase startup, say pre-100 people, everyone pitches in and has their hands in everything. It is an incredibly exciting, fast and engaging time for everyone who has the opportunity to be a part of it. But as the business grows this is no longer an option. A business doesn’t scale if the CEO is managing implementations instead of working with the board and enabling the sales team. It doesn't scale if the CTO is engaged in troubleshooting technical issues instead of driving innovation. It doesn't scale if Customer Success Managers are making decisions based on “gut” feelings about account health and tracking data in spreadsheets (or worse, keeping it in their heads). This type of engagement simply does not scale. As the business grows, everyone has to make tough decisions about where to invest their time despite their passion to be engaged in and knowledgeable of the details of every deal and project. It requires decisions that enable people with expertise to do their jobs while the original team refocuses their passion and efforts. 

In many cases scaling a startup means making tough decisions about the talent on the team. One of the hardest decisions a leader in a startup has to make is deciding to move the talent that brought you early success out of the way to make room for the talent that will take you to the next level. In some cases individuals grow with a startup, expanding their skill sets, adapting to the new level of engagement and embracing change. As we have scaled the team at HireVue, we have purposefully promoted a development culture to ensure that the individuals who want to embrace the next level have the support, resources and opportunities to do so. Scaling requires making the tough decisions to get the right people in the right seats for the next leg of the journey.


In the most efficient and effective way  Scaling also means investing in the resources, tools and processes to leverage the talent you have in the most effective ways possible. Again, scale isn’t about simply adding more headcount but getting that headcount working on the right things efficiently. At HireVue our team has grown, which is great. But we have also been laser focused on driving scale. To do this we have developed a structured methodology for implementations and change management (we call it “Change Influence”), and established a process for measuring and managing customers to success through product adoption. We have spent time creating direct accountability for product adoption, customer satisfaction and retention for the Customer Success Managers and have enabled them with tools like executive scorecards, quarterly business reviews, lifecycle maps, recommendations and customer health indexes. These and the many other projects we have been driving were, and continue to be, an investment in the team that is helping us scale by driving additional contributions from the existing headcount.

Scaling a startup is hard work. It is the critical element in taking the business to the next level but it involves difficult people decisions and the often unglamorous work of building tools and processes and leading the team to work at the next level. 

About David Verhaag 

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA.

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