Not All Growth is Created Equal: Scaling Your Biz (Unedited Notes)

This talk is about how to grow and scale a business the right way. Speakers are Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Dell, Ingrid Vanderveldt, and Chief Product Officer of Blurb, Donna Boyer.

Growing a Company vs. Scaling a Company

Growth is building your business and building it fast, scaling is about keeping up with that growth and grow in a way that’s sustainable.

The Big Break—what if you’re not prepared to scale when you get your big break? How can we think about growing and scaling before that happens?

Communication is Key

“Tell your engineering team you’re going to be on the Martha Stewart show before you’re going to be on it.”—Donna Boyer

Often in a company, the growth people aren’t the same people as the scale people, and communication between those people is key to success. It’s not about slowing down, it’s about making sure that everyone knows ahead of time what actions should be taken to prepare for it. That doesn’t mean “overbuild,” just prepare.

For example, if there’s an email going out with an action that will be taken immediately on your website, it’s a good idea to talk to the tech team and they might suggest staggering the delivery. It might seem like a preparation overkill, but it doesn’t hurt and could keep all the servers from going down.

How do you communicate with all those teams?

They had a goal to get a certain number of customers, but they didn’t plan for what would happen when they attained that number of customers. For example, they needed to account for the number of customer support people, how big of an office space they would need, even down to how much paper would they need for the copiers. There are a lot of considerations to be made, and everyone is working towards the goal, but we need to also consider the unintended consequences.

Money, Hiring and Customers

As you’re growing and scaling your business, how do you think about the financial planning of your business? One of the biggest things Donna’s learned in the early startup days is to just make your number every month, every week, every day. It’s really easy to let things go and get out of shape. It’s easier to do a little bit every day. It’s a good idea to really evaluate where you went wrong non-defensively. Ask why that happened? What assumptions did we make and miss that made this happen? It’s easy to readjust if you know where you went wrong.

We’re always struggling to get the best talent out there, but they’re expensive! How do we gain access to those people early on if we can’t afford them? Hire people who are passionate about what they’re doing. Startup world is hard, there are good days and bad days, often in the same day. The key is to find people who are passionate about the work, who believe in what they’re doing at the stage the company is in right now. Those people will be creative and contribute to that in a way that some rock star types can’t be.

Keep the core group, do whatever you can to lock them down. Work with winners, have a tech person, have a core business person. You will attract more talent and grow from there. Let your team help you grow. Hire people who are thinking about what you do even when they’re off. The people who come in on Monday and say “I was thinking over the weekend while I was out running…” Those are the folks who can help you grow.

A tip on how to pull in those first customers, and how do you keep the original customers as ambassadors when you’re growing and scaling?

Really get to know your customers and what they’re doing or how they’re using your product. If you keep saying “that’s outside of our core business” when you’re getting suggestions, you’ll miss out on what could have been your second wave. Listen to them non-defensively. Look for reasons to be wrong, and be paranoid about what you could be doing better. Apologize and learn from your mistakes.

Getting Investments from Large Corporations

When it comes to trying to get a deal with a large corporation, do your research. Know who your customers are, and know where the company is trying to grow and innovate. Help solve the challenges of the larger company and you’ll move to the top of the list.

Questions from the Audience

How do you define a process as the company scales? Process is a necessary evil, and it’s important to have one that everyone understands. Go one level down in the process from what you think you need, don’t over-process, but think about process not as something external but as a way of communicating. Also, check in with your team to find out if your process is working well without using the word “process.” You can ask if people feel like they’re all on the same page, that they know what’s going on. If they do, then your process is working.

“Just because you’re the person that founded the company doesn’t mean you’re the best person to run it.” —Donna Boyer

Specialize in something so that you can hand off jobs to other people.

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