How to Scale a StartUp: 3 Surprising Tools That Work

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By Karan Bajaj

WhiteHat Jr grew 100x within 9 months, doubling almost every month in this period.

How do you scale systems fast enough to meet user growth?

Here are three tools that worked, including mistakes made (plenty!), which I hope will be of use to startups and businesses on fast trajectories.

I found almost no playbook to learn from during our condensed hyper-scaling phase, so if you have better ideas/tools, kindly let me know in the comments. I will update this post for everyone’s use:

 1. Your Management Dashboard- What gets Measured gets Managed

We reached an important revenue milestone one day in April’ 2020. Everyone was celebrating.

Except the management team.

Because we knew revenue would crash three days later. A communication system bug had stopped customer email for 4 hours. With no email prompts, trial class user attendance would dip in subsequent days.

How do you know every granular detail of your company in real-time?

Measure every metric that matters. And review it daily without fail.

WHJ Management Dashboard- Sample
(Reviewed Daily for 3 Years and Counting!)

Your management dashboard should have both L1 output metrics e.g. revenue and Customer Satisfaction scores updated daily. And detailed L2 input metrics to diagnose L1 issues immediately.

Blitzscaling=Blitz of Issues.

Follow this “Metric Rule of 3” to always be on top of issues, mostly before they arise:

1. Measure every metric that matters daily.

2. Have an owner for each metric.

3. Review every metric daily in a management meeting

We met daily 10-11a.m, without fail, to review the management dashboard from the start of the company. All management attended, from curriculum to product to CTO to sales and operations heads, which kept everyone marching together to solve the blitz of blitzscaling problems!

2. Your Org Structure- are you creating Legends?

Our 1st Vice President of Sales had started in our Call-Center as an entry-level employee. He moved from call-center executive to Call Center Leader, then to Sales Executive, Team Leader, Sales Director and VP within eighteen months.

Break traditional management rules in a startup.

You make a 20/4 commitment to people who’ve signed up for your mission in a startup.

We’ll replace 20 years of low-intensity work with 4 years of high-intensity work. And you’ll compress 20 years of personal and professional growth in these 4 years.”

Promote people fast to scale the organization fast.

We asked all our top young sales managers to elevate themselves to mini-CEOs, who’d recruit, train and lead teams of 200 each from zero within 3 weeks, during the blitzscaling phase.

And in almost every case, they delivered.

Org structure is the single best tool to scale startups. Do you really need to wait 6 months for a pedigreed, experienced hire from outside the company for a leadership role?

In some cases, the answer is Yes.

In most cases though, don’t go with the default IIT/IIM external hire.

Make legends within the organization.

And they’ll inspire the next generation of driven, hungry young people to become legends.

“So now he is a Legend when he would have preferred to be a man.” – Jackie Kennedy

3. Your Systems- are they as simple as you can make them?

At midnight, one day, we were debating the relative pros and cons of Salesforce vs LeadSquared to manage our sales for the tenth time.

It doesn’t matter.

Make system decisions in days rather than months.

I learnt it the hard way, wasting much effort and time. We all think our companies are unique snowflakes. But any large well-reviewed SaaS provider will meet 80% of your use-cases. And an ace engineering team can develop the remaining 20% in record time.

Speed is your Lifeblood.

Simplify to scale. And seldom build in-house systems that SaaS companies have spent years perfecting.

“Simplify! One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease”- Bruce Lee.

We managed 5 million+ users and 40,000+ daily live classes daily across students from 100+ countries with just 3-4 systems below. And rarely faced issues we couldn’t solve.

  • Telephony: Ameyo/Exotel(India), TalkDesk(outside India).
  • Sales: Salesforce
  • Post-Sales Support: ZenDesk

Please drop me a note in the comments if you want introductions to any of their representatives but my guess is other systems would work just fine! Just scale fast to get the best service 🙂

Finally, what are the biggest Mistakes I made in scaling?

1. Founder Role Evolution: A founder’s role evolves RAPIDLY in a startup as follows:

a. 0-to-1: Founder as the 1st Product Manager (Own each small detail of the product pre Product-Market Fit).

b. 1-to-100: Founder as the Business Systems Expert (Become a student of systems to blitzscale recruiting, sales, operations, tech, all functions).

c. 100-to-1000: Founder as the culture champion (Set everything in auto-pilot to focus on scaling org culture).

I did 0-to-1 and 1-to-100 well but was late to enter the 100-to-1000 leadership phase as I continued being heavily engaged in daily operations, more out of my interest versus adding any real value.

Rule of Thumb: You’re likely acting as a true culture champion if you find yourself repeating the mission and values of the company 1-3x daily to one functional group or the other within the company in the scaling phase.

2. External Training: We promoted folks in their early 20’s to run large organizations within the company as mini-CEOs based on performance alone, supported by very basic in-house managerial training programs.

Lesson Learnt: I’d still create Legends with out-of-line promotions. But do more rigorous coaching for new leaders, as I did later, to have consistently strong people leaders in the company vs the hit-or-miss situation we had for a while. Please drop me a note in the comments if you want introductions to strong external management coaches/programs.

UPDATE: I recommend Subhikha Bilkha leadership coach, who is transparent and accessible and helped us in working with people’s natural strengths to mould them into strong leaders.

Was this helpful? What are your other questions in the scaling phase? Let me know in the comments so I can answer your questions in subsequent posts. My best always for your 100x growth phase!

PS: You may also like the new YT Video on How to Stop Overthinking here!

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