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Taking the leap from startup status to a fully-fledged scaleup is still a subject of much debate and confusion for many entrepreneurs.

startup status

What’s the difference between both types of businesses? Now that we’ve achieved growth in revenue? Is the business ready? Am I ready? All questions entrepreneurs have to grapple with before taking that next step from startup status in their business growth journey.

In truth, the difference between a startup and scaleup is very different. It’s all about education, preparation and a little bit of faith to help propel a business to the next level. This isn’t easy and can be daunting especially as there is still the unwritten perception of the ‘perfect business model’.

How do startups stay sustainable with room for further growth? How do business leaders make sure their product can be pushed on a global scale? What do you do when new, unexpected, trends crop up or consumer behaviour changes? There are a lot of questions to find tangible answers for. Here is what I’ve learnt on my journey from startup to scale-up:

Live and breathe your expertise

The first step in any new strategic phase is to evaluate the status of your business – the good and ugly. C-Suite execs shouldn’t sit in their office; it is useful to get out and interact with employees on the floor. By doing so you’ll gather valuable intel about all sections of the business. For example, I became an intern in each department, from billing to customer service, to get hands-on experience, figuring out what we were uniquely good at, and where we could get better. This primary insight can be hugely valuable when pushing the business forward as it will help with the creation of key business objectives in areas that may not be weaker than others.

Discovering flaws isn’t a weakness. Taking the step to understand what the business is good at and what it’s not so good at will strengthen the resolve of the workforce and position the business as a forward-thinker, willing to innovate.

Know who you are

The next step is to be clear on your ambition. What is your vision? Don’t feel restricted to what is considered the ‘norm’ as every business goes through a different journey. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t exist anymore. Believe in giant quantum leaps and know your business messaging inside out to understand what makes you different from the competition. This may mean rethinking the way your business works or even tweak your offering slightly to match new emerging trends. For example, whether that is to transform to the digital subscription space or launch an industry first; make sure your identity and branding is consistent, otherwise you run the risk of becoming lost, confused or even forgotten.

Identity is also closely linked to the values and culture of the business. Are you about action, speed and experimentation? Do you pride yourself on exploring innovative and fresh ideas, that are thoroughly tested and backed with hard data? At Iron, I constantly ask our teams to stretch themselves, and to have fun while doing it. Growing and learning also means being transparent and honest: it leaves no room for defensiveness, but rather requires acknowledging weaknesses, mistakes and challenges, so you can all focus on finding solutions and keep improving. Collaboration, not only amongst your team, but also with the outside world, should be part of your DNA. Share expertise, ideas, capital and contacts—because by helping others grow, the business will grow faster as well.

Treat your staff as an extension of your business

Making leaps could mean scaling up dramatically, which in turn requires capital, resources and the right tools. I have worked at a range of organisations that scaled up fast, and constantly strived to “industrialise” processes so things could be done better and faster, which validated the jump from startup to scaleup.

What’s the secret ingredient? It turns out the answer is simply: the people. Even if you have the best product in the world, without the people behind the scenes or those on the frontline, the product wouldn’t exist. Create a culture of entrepreneurs, rather than trying to do it all on your own – share the work, share the reward (and the learnings).

Nurture your talent

Be open to answering questions and offer insight into what you’ve learnt, weaknesses, strengths and what kinds of skills you feel they are lacking during your career. Not only does this show that you are proactively looking to grow your workforce professionally, but it also demonstrates your desire to include others in the development of the business. Give your employees something great to believe in, and give them the benefits they deserve for assisting in the success of your company.

Moving from your startup status to a scaleup isn’t easy, but it can be manageable if you’re armed with the right tools and the right attitude. Understanding the business’ strengths and weaknesses, solidifying brand identity, treating employees as entrepreneurs and encouraging growth within the company, will help push the business forward.


By Anne de Kerckhove, CEO, Iron

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