Startup needs to grow up

Startup needs to grow up

The startup life sounds exciting looking from the outside in. Clever people with innovative ideas bringing a small talented team together over ping pong tables, bean bags and dog-friendly workplaces. Of course, we know that’s not the reality for all. So many founders of startups struggle through the initial phases of forming, validating, growing then establishing their company.

What happens after you start to get a little traction and growth is interesting. Once the business implements that great idea, secures some investment, and continues to bring more people onto the team is that it can enter the awkward ‘teenage years’. In this phase the business is caught between startup and growth – childhood and adulthood. If you think you can make this transition without some real business infrastructure then you’re wrong.

Where can it start to go wrong?

One of the first areas the friction is felt is with the people. When the team is very small, say less than 6, it’s so much easier to communicate. Everyone feels part of the ‘cause’; prepared to work hard to make the business a success, with a clear culture understood by all.

Now add another 20 or so employees and life’s not quite so easy. Communication is more complicated, the variety of skillsets and personalities increases, and a flat structure just isn’t cutting it anymore. The previously clear and strong culture and values may start to be diluted. Pushing through this stage without implementing a strong foundation of capability, structure, systems and practices to support your people and your business is a recipe for high turnover, slow growth and poor culture

Feeling a resistance to structure?

Founders often resist putting in place the systems and structure required as they may consider this structure to be harmful to the easy-going culture they have built and counter-intuitive to life in a startup. In fact, just the opposite is true. If you can capture and articulate values and culture early, then build them into the organisation’s policies and practices, you will have a much better chance of nurturing the culture you want.

Who is the best person for the job?

What makes the founder (or co-founders) great at ideation and selling the dream, may not be what affords them success at running a business. Understanding where you may need to bring in additional leadership or specialist capability is important for the growth of any startup. You can’t do it all. Also knowing when you need to increase your own capability as founder to support the organisation through its next phase of growth will help to minimise some of the issues that arise often within founder-led startups.

So how can you help your startup to grow up? How can you move successfully into business ‘adulthood’ with an engaged team and positive culture?

  1. Know the limits of your own capability.
  2. Call on external expertise to help create the structure and systems to support growth.
  3. Understand that maintaining a strong culture takes work.
  4. Invest in the development of your people and internal leadership capability.
  5. Plan for growth – of your business and your people.

Feeling the growing pains already? Don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss how I can help by providing human resources and leadership development services.

Clariti Consulting is a business born out of Caroline McGuire’s passion for maximising individual potential and assisting organisations to develop employee-focused cultures. Our mission is to help create work environments where every employee is supported to grow and thrive, moving the organisation towards greater performance, growth and innovation. Contact us today or email on

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