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Start-up Advice

8 Milestones You Need To Reach Before You’re Ready To Scale

Is it the idea? The team? The will to keep pushing forward? The money? It’s all of these things, working together.

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The rapid uptick of the hockey stick on a high growth start-up can look spectacular from the outside as you watch the company grow. It all appears so easy, but it’s the classic story of the five-year overnight success — when you just see the last few months.

Building a start-up is tough. They’re full of high-intensity stressful periods, scattered between drawn out frustrating spells of not growing fast enough, inadequate revenue or problems with your team. Building a start-up that’s poised for high growth is even harder, and the emotional roller coaster flies higher and drops lower as the pressure increases.

Customer apathy kills more start-ups than anything else and getting over that to grow the company takes a lot of trying new things and learning. There will always be a few years of drudgery before the rocket ship takes off.

Here are some things you need to have in place before you try to scale:

1Have the right team

It all starts with the right people. Picking trustworthy co-founders with complementary skills is paramount. Beyond that, you need to have key support structures in place both internally, with domain experts who know more in their field than you, and externally with a network of advisors and mentors to rely on for solid guidance.

Related: 5 Books To Read Before Starting Your Business

2A culture of learning

learning

You’re going to have inaccurate assumptions about your product and market. There are things you can’t know at the beginning, and your market is going to shift and evolve over time.

Building a company culture that embraces learning by studying the data around you and experimenting with new and better ways of doing things will help you weather these changes and emerge stronger and more resilient. It’ll also help you adjust to internal change as you grow.

Having open communication and tight feedback loops is great to increase and share team learnings.

As Darwin said: “It’s not the strongest or fastest species that survives, but the one most adaptable to change.”

3Focus on your customer’s needs

One of the easiest ways to evolve with your market is by being focused on the needs of your customers and continuously finding better ways to fulfil these. If you focus internally on your product, you’re likely to miss outside changes, but if you’re focused on how you are solving your customer’s problem, then you’ll be the first to notice external changes, threats or opportunities.

Also don’t try to solve every customer need. Rather do one thing ten times better than ten things only slightly better. Focus is key and that means saying ‘no’ and doing less.

4Control your core value proposition

It’s very tempting to find partners to help launch your idea, and it can be a very favourable way to get started. But over time, as you grow and prepare for scale, ensure you have complete control over the business core that delivers the value proposition to your customers so their satisfaction is not reliant on other parties.

You can outsource many things, but if you’re a software-as-a-service company you should have your own developers working on the code. Or if you’re an online retailer, ensure you manage your own customer service — even if you use partners for warehousing and deliveries. Whatever the essence of the value you provide to your customers, you’re going to need tight control over it, which is very hard if it’s not in-house.

5Don’t raise too much (or too little)

If you plan to grow faster than your organic revenues would typically allow, you’ll probably have to raise some capital. Raising too little is the obvious mistake as you’re going to prematurely run out of money. But, raise too much and it can dilute your shareholding so much that you’re disincentivised, or you lose control of your board and direction.

Having too big a war chest can also mean you’re pressured into doing wasteful things you wouldn’t have done otherwise and can distract from the critical focus you need to get the growth you require. Being over-funded can also force you into decisions you don’t want to take, as investors push you down more risky paths for their required returns, but which increase your odds of failure. It’s a careful balance to achieve, so weigh your options carefully.

Related: 9 Answers You Need About Yourself Before Starting Your Own Business

6Know your exit strategy

business-exit-strategy

Building something with huge potential to scale can be really exciting, but it helps to start with the end in mind. What you’re working towards will be the litmus test you apply to thousands of smaller decisions.

If you’re driving for sustainability, you’re going to hold back on over-investing in growth. If you’re aiming for an acquisition, then pushing for user numbers or partners might be the most important. Or if you’re going for an Initial Public Offering, growth with at least the option of huge profitability and dividend yield will be the most important.

You also need to ensure you and your investors are aiming for the same outcome. If you’re not clear on what you’re hoping for, you’re less likely to achieve it. As Zig Ziglar says, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”

7Know your metrics

Linked to the above point, you need to understand the numbers in your business and what levers you can pull to change them. Track as much data as you can from as early as possible — it’ll help you dive into the nuts and bolts to see what’s really going on.

But no two metrics are equal and looking at too many makes it hard to prioritise. It helps to have a high-level dashboard with three to five of your most important actionable metrics or KPIs (avoid non-actionable vanity metrics). What are the top three metrics for your business, that if they go up, you know you’re succeeding? These are the things your team will prioritise over all else and will be the standard to which they compare their actions. Make these visible to everyone in the company so they know what’s most important.

8LTV > CAC

Of all the metrics you can track, ensuring your customer Lifetime Value (LTV) is greater than your Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) is possibly the most important. If it costs you more to get a customer than you ever make from the person, then you’re scaling a loss-making machine. Tweaking the systems and processes in your business to get LTV > CAC should be your biggest priority before you try to scale.

You can experiment with automation, different pricing models, customer segments, marketing channels, ways of billing, set of product features and a number of other elements to get this right. But don’t try to scale or raise money to scale before you master this point.

A solid foundation will give you the best opportunity to create a fast-growing success story, and getting these eight things in place will take you a long way towards achieving that. So dream big, but make sure you have the basics in place so those dreams can become a reality.

Roger Norton is the CEO of Playlogix , the author of Start Here, as well as the creator of the Lean Iterator methodology, which has been used by the likes of UCT GSB, Idea.org, Alan Gray Orbis Foundations and Standard Bank Innovation.

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Start-up Advice

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden

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You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden

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Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck

luck

This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

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Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black

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Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

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