Pains of Scaling Up — The messy middle

Published on
November 3, 2022
Jack Williams
Head of Business Development
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The messy middle, a.k.a. the scale-up stage, is the part of the start-up’s voyage from point A to point B and beyond. In this period of growth, entrepreneurs are closing in on a finished product or venture that the world will soon embrace as part of their day-to-day.

This is where a young business enters adolescence and prepares itself for adulthood. Much like teenagers going through awkward puberty, no entrepreneur likes talking about this chapter of their business journey.

Most success stories only discuss the beginning and the end: the fun, interesting chunks of a start-up’s rise to greatness. Often, founders are painted as tech savants who saw a problem no one else could see and created solutions that revolutionised the way users do things forever.

What is repeatedly left out is the chaos of the in-betweens. It is in the way entrepreneurs handle the messy middle that makes or breaks a business. Getting through this final mile can be riddled with setbacks, uncertainties, and growing pains. Reaching goals in a timely manner requires perseverance, agile decision-making, industry expertise, and robust support for and from teams.

In this third instalment to our “Pains of Scaling Up” series, we discuss the five challenges that abound in the messy middle and what entrepreneurs can do to successfully get through them.

1) Surviving Capital Raising Rounds

Challenges, like ensuring there is enough cash flow to cover out-of-pocket expenses and carefully choosing investment partners, significantly affect business outcomes — even proving disastrous for the ill-prepared.

By developing a fail-safe plan before deep-diving into this murky pool and not underestimating potential financial costs, entrepreneurs will have a greater chance of avoiding — or at least, minimising — their losses and set themselves up for success during transitions.

In our article “Capital Raising: Considering a raise? Here’s what you need to do,” we have a more in-depth discussion of the five things entrepreneurs need to take into account when raising capital for their next growth spurt.

2) Preserving Company Culture and Values

When companies go through this stage of growth, a close-knit team can easily grow into a large group of strangers unaware of the collective mission. It is crucial that each employee stays on track, works toward the same goals, makes sound decisions in the absence of their leaders, and feels valued and excited to come to work daily.

How do entrepreneurs do all these? By preserving company culture and values despite company size.

A business’s culture and values should go beyond company brochures. Success has a lot to do with the foundation it is built on. A company’s values inform its culture. Therefore, culture and values should be treated as living, breathing entities that scale and evolve with the company through the years — not just rigid guiding principles and practices.

Write them down. Send out constant reminders. Use them as a basis for hiring new employees. Visibly role-model them to subordinates. It all seems easier said than done, because it is. It takes consistent work and dedication. Maintaining and evolving your company culture and values are crucial to getting everyone to play for the same team in both the short and long terms.

To learn more about how to effectively address a lack of dedication to company culture evolution, check out our article “Pains of Scaling Up: Where scale-ups go wrong and get scarred”.

3) Aiming for Global Growth

Almost at the outset, young, ambitious companies aim to go global in the shortest time possible. While certainly possible, this haste brings about complications.

A deeper, more comprehensive understanding of local markets is key when taking the first step toward global domination. Without carefully distilled insights from these markets, figuring out where the next pool of clients is can prove unnecessarily challenging and possibly sabotage a company’s potential to create lasting impact.

Work hard and fast, but be patient when need be. Learn from existing data, look to what competitors are doing, and aim to go bigger — within reason, of course. Risks are capable of taking companies to greater heights, but only when they are taken strategically.

To see these insights in action, read our article on how HIVERY’s strategic three-part methodology allowed them to leverage consumer data as well as market and competitor insights to achieve global success.

4) Hiring and/or Keeping the Right People

In business, what and who company teams are made up of are paramount when strengthening chemistry, driving productive funding discussions, pushing out products and solutions, and managing daily business operations.

There is a mantra that entrepreneurs live by: Hire slow, fire fast.

This does not have to mean having to wait months to hire top talent or taking only a split-second to weed out underperforming ones. Bad hires and knee-jerk terminations can put a significant dent in a start-up’s future growth plans, which is why caution is encouraged.

Hiring new talents and keeping the right people close can be as simple as ensuring they are the right culture and team fit. In most cases, empowering and aptly compensating existing, highly capable employees to step up to new roles and responsibilities also do the trick.

5) Stepping Up to the Leadership Plate

Growth often comes with feelings of overwhelm. The truth is, everyone at this stage will feel like they are in over their heads once in a while. Leaders must take it upon themselves to seek mentors within their industry to fill the gaps and guide them through this incredibly uncomfortable and humbling stage of growth.

Now, more than ever, scale-up leaders need industry veterans to help guide them in the right direction. Whether it is allocating and maximising time and resources, making quick, tough decisions, or refining business and marketing strategies, the moment leaders gain access to expert insights on common problem areas, progress starts to pick up the pace.

The messy middle can overstretch even the most determined, knowledgeable, well-connected entrepreneurs. With the right funding strategy, culture and values, growth plans, people, and leadership guidance, any start-up can go from point A to point B with as few snags as possible.

As scale-up specialists, we at BeingIconic have successfully assisted entrepreneurs in developing, refining, and evolving overarching growth strategies that allowed them to achieve up to 500% of growth in just 6 months. Partner with us today to know how we can do the same for you.