9 warning signs you aren’t ready to scale

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Over the months, your team has been working very fast to create and refine your product idea, with feedback from early adopters. It’s going well, but it’s going to happen. A lot. Work. The team is in a double state of fatigue and excitement. User maintenance is increasing. You have created a product that you are sure people will like. Investors are taking notice and negotiating funding for the next phase. Success is on the horizon. It is so close that you can feel it.

If this sounds like you, then congratulations! You have overcome major obstacles to reach this point. For many, the moment you get funded starts a new clock: new features, new jobs, new users. The next stage of growth.

But have you really thought about what will happen when you double or triple the size of your team to meet the growth demand? Do you have the right team now to support this growth? The right infrastructure? The right culture?

Can your company scale successfully?

For early-stage startups, warning signs pop up along the way but are often ignored. We say “culture doesn’t drive acquisition,” “it’s not important today,” or “we’ll face it when we get there.”

I have seen startups brainstorm their way through the transition from the initial stage to the growth phase. Those who avoid long-term, complex mistakes are those who begin to plan for their development early and deliberately. They risk their success by prioritizing work that will ensure that the company is built to scale.

If you have reached this critical disruption point in your startup growth, pay attention to these warning signs that you are not ready to measure:

  • With technical debt your backlog is growing rapidly,

    There is no easier way to say that you will have long-term growth problems than a technical debt backlog for which you never have time. Technical debt is normal, the expected maintenance for any product and should not stop at the back burner sprint after the sprint. If you are struggling with this problem, there are probably two reasons (sometimes both): you did not prioritize a sustainable process to maintain this debt, or your product is unstable.

    You can address this by talking directly to your team and getting their feedback on how they feel about the technical date. Is this a priority issue due to unrealistic deadlines for feature development? Give them space to prioritize. Does the team feel that the product infrastructure is reaching its breaking point? Evaluate the merits and demerits of reactor versus rewrite.

  • During growth, your startup is slow to release features,

    If you’re slow to release features and updates, you’ll disappoint teams and users alike. This is often a cultural problem of trying to solve a lot of things together.

    If you don’t already have one, you should adhere to the best practices for continuous deployment, including splitting features into smaller, more valuable increments and getting things out for testing as soon as possible. Fully embrace agile and repetitive development, not later.

  • Your data is unreliable,

    Quantitative data is not initially useful. All of a sudden, your product has enough users to make the data useful. There is nothing more frustrating than not believing in the accuracy and integrity of the data coming out of your platform. This is a common problem for startups that do not prioritize singular sources of truth over data and end up with conflicting, inconsistent information that makes decision making almost impossible.

    So, how can you avoid this? Invest early in segments like the Customer Data Platform (CDP) that helps you collect, clean and activate your customer data. Trust me, you will thank me later.

  • You are not really focusing on the important criteria,

    Yes, data is important when you start scaling. But it can also provide an overwhelming amount of information that makes it difficult to gain meaningful insights. This mountain of data disrupts the decision-making process and distracts from what really matters.

    Be clear about what data to measure and at what stage of growth. For most growing startups, metric retention is the most important metric for a successful product. That is You have created a product that people find useful and will fall in love with the best measure to understand. Other metrics are needed to sell to investors, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re creating a product for your users. Without them, you would not have a product of scales.

  • You have more marketers than engineers.

    The surest way to know if you are focusing on the wrong metrics is to have more marketers than engineers. Editing – getting new users to try out your product – is easier than having them live and love your product. Having too many marketers early can increase your visibility, but it won’t help if your product doesn’t meet the needs of its key adopters.

    If you see this imbalance in your team, then consider redistributing your dollars to build a healthier product team that can deliver consistent features and keep user retention high. Until your company reaches the next stage of growth, make sure you have enough engineers that the team is comfortable before investing more in marketing.

  • You do not have a formal production strategy,

    No one wants to take the time to write a formal production strategy. I understood. It takes time, it takes (sometimes frustrating levels) collaboration. And the nature of startups is that they play a key role, making the task of creating strategies sometimes seem meaningless and pointless. But I promise, it’s not. Smart product companies do this even if they don’t talk about it in public.

    Keep perseverance and morale during this growth transition to document your startup strategy and make sure your team understands it, inquires about it and builds from it.

  • Your product team is not working cross-functionally,

    Many product startup organizational structures are built from resource or financial scarcity. Because of this, they build a production culture that is either highly engineering-centric or highly design-centric. Product management is paid by the owner of the company, if it is considered at all. This can work in the early stages. But as the company grows, so does product team makeup.

    To improve cross-functional collaboration, reorganize your product team leadership to include product manager, engineering lead, and design lead (aka “The Trio”). Everyone should contribute equally to decisions that ensure that technical needs, business needs, and user needs are all considered products and that their processes grow to maturity.

  • You are not writing things,

    If your processes, culture, and way of working live in the spirit of the small team you currently work with, scaling can be painful. This works when the team is small, because people understand the standards because of the nature of how closely they work together. But when startups grow and sections are naturally silo, this is impossible to maintain. Intentional growth involves intentional documentation of what is important to the company. Without it, cracks would form in the culture and there would be a much bigger problem down the road.

    “Just enough process” and “just enough documentation” are my two favorite slogans. Start writing the most important things you want people to be responsible for: your values, processes, strategies. Over time, encourage team members to do the same.

  • You have no plans for your culture or organizational evolution,

    Once the investor’s dollar hits, there will be another phase of high-speed work to hire a team – sometimes two or three times its current size. If you do not plan ahead, it can cost you money in the long run. The culture can change drastically and there can be conflicts between old and new employees. The team you currently have may be distracted and frustrated by this growth. Leadership Involvement Needs Change to Support a Big Company as opposed to a small, tight-knit group it was at one time. You can run this culture on purpose or you can let it happen to you.

    Sit down with your current team and map out a future phase of the company. Talk about culture. What do you want to keep What do you want to change? How will the roles change? Who will take the lead leadership roles in a more formal C-level leadership owned by the company? Address the excitement, fear and other emotions surrounding this growth of your startups. Make a plan that everyone seems to have invested in.

When people talk about startups, they often focus more on the challenges that early-stage startups face – creating MVPs, achieving product market fit, and securing investor funding. Is that understandable? Without going through this phase, there is no future, so there is good reason to focus on the here and now.

But this tunnel vision can make the transition from seed to scale more painful and put even the biggest ideas at risk of failure. Data from the Small Business Administration shows that startups have a failure rate of about 90%, with 21.5% failing in the first year, 30% in the second year, 50% in the fifth year and 70% in their 10th year. .

Startups face a higher risk of failure as they grow. Don’t let your team lose long-term vision due to short-sightedness: a sustainable product and a company that continues to grow well beyond MVP.

Summer Lemson is the chief service officer at Dockyard, a digital product consultancy focused on helping new companies scale through a combination of technology and design.

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