Archives for posts with tag: Growth

“Daur “Hockey” Sticks” by Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D. is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

I’ve been in business for a good 30 years or so. For most of those years I remained confused about a phrase that a lot of my North American colleagues used.

‘We’re looking for hockey stick growth,’ they would say, ‘that elusive hockey stick growth curve.’ This image always left me flummoxed. After all, who wants to see a massive downturn in growth before you see the upswing? You might not survive the downturn…

I finally realised that I wasn’t thinking about the right hockey stick. In fact I was thinking about the right hockey. Hockey, or ‘Ice Hockey’, to give it its full name, is hugely popular in North America, and has a flat bottom part and then bends up in a straight line, the sort of sales growth envied the world over.

In Europe, hockey is field hockey, not anywhere near as popular in North America, and uses a differently shaped stick with a curved part where you hit the ball. Not the shape you want for sales growth…

Confusion over!

In this last post in the series on scaling a business, we look at the checklist of ’10 Rockefeller habits’. Once more I borrow from the Growth Institute in this fascinating piece on how the 10 habits of the fabled businessman are the only framework you need to scale your business.

Working from the principle that success comes from the combination of goals and discipline, and you must have both, rather like strategy and execution, the article provides a detailed description of the 10-item Rockefeller habits checklist, which I summarise here:

  1. The executive team is healthy and aligned
  2. Everyone is aligned with the #1 thing that needs to be accomplished this quarter to move the company forward
  3. Communication rhythm is established and information moves through the organisation quickly
  4. Every facet of the organisation has a person assigned with accountability for ensuring goals are met
  5. Ongoing employee input is collected to identify obstacles and opportunities
  6. Reporting and analysis of customer feedback data is as frequent and accurate as financial data
  7. Core values and purpose are “alive” in the organisation
  8. Employees can articulate the key components of the company’s strategy accurately
  9. All employees can answer quantitatively whether they had a good day or week
  10. The company’s plans and performance are visible to everyone

These habits only truly come alive when you read the narrative and case studies that amplify them, so refer to here for the valuable detail. You’ll get the how to implement and who should implement that will send you on your way to scaling a business successfully.


This post continues the series on scaling a business, this time defining the exponential organisation. An exponential organisation is a company that scales rather than grows. In other words it grows at an exponential rate – d’oh!

Jacob Morgan covers how to create an exponential organisation and why you would want to in this excellent piece. He leans heavily on the work of the innovator Samil Ismail, one of those lucky souls who can find his first name in his last name…

Ismail’s research into exponential organisations leads him to identify ten commonalities in companies successfully hitting the stratosphere.  Five factors are external, and five are internal.

The five external factors equal the word SCALE:

  • S, staff on demand
  • C, community and crowd
  • A, algorithms
  • L, leased assets
  • E, engagement

The five internal factors spell the word IDEAS:

  • I, interfaces
  • D, dashboard
  • E, experimentation
  • A, autonomy
  • S, social

To find out more about each factor, and what combination of them would suit your ambitions, have a deeper look at the article.


In this second in the series of posts exploring scaling the business, let’s look the differences between growing the business versus scaling the business. What better source of authoritative information than this piece from the Growth Institute.

There are some fantastic insights in this piece. Here are just three of them:

  • Companies that scale successfully don’t set out to grow their business, they build it for scale from the outset
  • A scaling company grows at twice the industry average but its expenses are roughly the same
  • When I was at business school, a company’s growth was a series of steps, where you go through a plateau period before you slingshot up the next level. Nowadays the scaling curve is a series of ‘valleys of death’ through which each company must pass in order to dominate its industry

The Growth Institute identifies four scaling stages:

The percentages of companies that make it through each of these stages are horrifically small, so if you’ve got scale-up ambitions it’s important to go in eyes wide open, and also read the Growth Institute piece, and the ‘how to navigate’ guide, in more detail.

Recently I wrote a short post about scale-ups and scaling a business. Now I’m going to start a short series that continues the theme of scaling.

If the trend watchers are to be believed, the start-up and dot com has had its day. Maybe that term is a little out of date these days, since the emerging start-ups of today all seem to be dot ai anyway. Apparently it’s all about becoming a larger sustained company now, while also avoiding being copied, outdone or annihilated by the likes of GAFA: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon.

But if you want to catch the wave and forge something that lasts, what technology bandwagon should you be hitching a ride on? This piece from PWC explores in detail what they see as the eight essential emerging technologies.

The eight technologies are:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Augmented reality
  • Blockchains
  • Drones
  • Internet of Things
  • Robotics
  • Virtual reality
  • 3-D printing

The thing that makes this tricky for start-ups is that you need boat loads of cash to dominate them. They’re not a niche that you can easily protect.

The PWC article groups these eight technologies into five converging themes:

  • Embodied AI
  • Intelligent automation
  • Automating trust
  • Conversational interfaces
  • Extended reality

For information on which technology or theme you can embrace to harness your scale-up company ambitions, see the article.

Scaling a business is hard. Sometimes it must feel like you’re literally having to scale the business, in the sense of climbing up it, or order to scale it in the sense of growing it out, sustainably.

Scaling a business is perhaps the third stage in a company’s existence. At first you’re a solution to a problem, trying to get traction. In the second stage you’re a company with product market fit. People have a need for what you provide, and if you took what you provide away from them they would be in trouble.

Scaling the business is the third stage, where you’re building the business in a way that it can keep on building. Whereas you can see how a business moves from first to second stage, it’s less clear cut how the transition works from stages two to three. There might be a gaping chasm to cross, which calls to mind a very famous business book from two decades ago.

A scale up is defined as a company that grows by 20% or more for three consecutive years, starting from a base of at least ten employees. So, where a company can move quickly from stage one to stage two, getting to scale-up stage is a significantly longer investment, of time and money. Furthermore, by the time you’re getting close you may not have in place the right structure, the right foundation and the right people that got you from one to two, and almost to three.

A while back I wrote a post called Churn or Growth for Startups, and referenced the excellent content from the VC blogger Tom Tunguz. The answer was churn.

What should be the focus for the SaaS company looking to scale its business and grow at a rate that attracts heathy valuations and juicy multiples for an IPO or an exit? It’s grown by bringing on new companies and keeping them, so surely it should keep adding new logos, right?

The beauty of the SaaS model is that on the first of the year you can count on the revenues for all your customers who are renewing their annual commitment. Going from $80m to 100m in one year may seem like a giant jump, but the successful SaaS company has close to the €80 coming in during month 1, so it’s not such a big leap and, indeed, many such companies see themselves growing at phenomenal annual rates, far in excess of the 25% in my example.

The scaling company should focus on keeping and growing its existing customer base.

Have a look at this post from Mr Tunguz, which he said in an email recently was far and away the most popular post he did in 2018, 10 times more popular in fact than the next most popular post. Which is intriguing, since the post he links to is from 2016…

So startups should focus on preventing churn, and more established companies should focus on renewals, which is to say they should focus on preventing churn…

I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and blogs. A few of them I even get around to reading too. One in particular focuses on start-ups.

If you’re in a start-up, you should read this chap’s stuff. He’s memorably called Tomasz Tunguz and he’s a VC investor in software-as-a-service companies with a firm called Redpoint.

One particular post that sticks in the mind is called: Which To Prioritize – Churn or Growth? The answer, in case you didn’t have time to read his article, depends on your maturity as a business, but for early stage start-ups it’s churn. The one thing you need to establish as a start-up is product-market fit. You want to demonstrate how difficult your early customers think life would be without your product, which is why they’re all staying around. The stickier it is, the better your long-term prospects.

Tom – I don’t know him personally but I suspect he prefers to be addressed as such – offers many more reasons why churn is what you focus on instead of growth. For me it boils down to the business model. If you’re in an annuity-based business, founded on recurring revenues, then the more customers you can retain and renew, the greater your revenue starting-point is at the first of the year, before you’ve even begun to win new bookings.

They say that getting to $10m in revenues is the hardest stage for a B2B company. Why is that?

Well, it’s a combination of factors. In the early days you’re still tinkering with your business model. You’re still figuring out product-market fit. You’re not sure what to concentrate on, to whom, and where. You can’t reap the benefits of scale.

Perhaps most importantly, though, you’re in a real life situation, and subject to the normal pressures of working with other people, both in your company and outside your company. You’re trying to develop something that’s going to have the right appeal to a sufficiently large enough market, yet you probably have a small number of customers who exercise a disproportionately large influence on you, in terms of how they want you to develop your products and services.

You’re torn between giving the paying customers what they want, which is essentially something that’s customised to their requirements, and developing something that does the job for the maximum part of your addressable market, but which doesn’t immediately translate into positive cash-flow. This is especially true in software.

Any company can sell an idea and get funding, possibly running into the millions. Any company that can get from 0 to 10 million – in revenues – and beyond is a different proposition, an animal that has risen above 90% of the other animals and proven itself. It will still have challenges, but it’s done what many have tried and failed to do. It’s a player.

You have this great business idea. You haven’t seen anything like it and you’re convinced you can make a success of your venture. The most pressing question, unless you happened to be prodigiously wealthy – so you already know how to get money and make more of it – is around financing the development and take-off of your idea.

You could bootstrap the business, running it on your own savings until it starts to ‘wash its own face’, but you might need more than you reckon on as these things always take longer than the best laid plans. You could go to friends and family and secure relatively small amounts from a relatively large number of people. At this point you might already need to start giving some of your company away in return for the investment, and by now you’re starting to think about the level of relationships you will have with these investors.

Those who don’t have access to their own funds or the funds of their nearest and dearest need to start playing the dating game with professional lenders, who might be high net worth individuals, institutions, state/semi-state bodies or private investment companies. It’s at this point that you need to develop an understanding of two things, very, very quickly. The first is how investment business and its clandestine terms work: seed this, A round that, mezzanine the other, and so on. The second, arguably even more important, is the type of investment partner you want to work with and who will be good for your business as it grows. Cultural fit is of paramount importance.

If you’re in the third camp, needing to start the dance with someone who lends and makes money for a living, then I can recommend this post for an excellent primer. There are some additional very good links within the post. I don’t know the guy at all, but he writes well and he seems to mean well too. Good luck!