Category Archives: Scale

Preview of My SaaStr Europa Talk: The Top 5 Scale-Up Mistakes

I’ll be speaking next month in Barcelona on the first day of SaaStr Europa, held at the International Convention Center on June 7th and 8th.   My presentation is scheduled at 11:25AM on June 7th and entitled The Top 5 Scale-Up Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.  While I usually speak at SaaStr, this is my first SaaStr Europa, and I’ll be making the trip over in my capacity as an EIR at Balderton Capital.

For those concerned about Covid, know that SaaStr Europa, like its Silicon Valley namesake, is a primarily outdoor and open air conference.  I spoke at SaaStr Annual in Silicon Valley last September and between the required entry testing and the outdoor venue felt about as safe as one could in these times.  Earlier this year, the folks at SaaStr moved the Europa venue from London to Barcelona to enable this primarily outdoor format.

After historically focusing a lot of my SaaStr content on the start-up phase (e.g., PMF, MVP), this year I thought I’d move to scale-up, and specifically the things that can go wrong as you scale a company from $10M to $100M in ARR.  Even if your company is still below $10M, I think you’ll enjoy the presentation because it will provide you with a preview of what lies ahead and hopefully help you avoid common mistakes as you enter the scale-up stage.  (If nothing else, the rants on repeatability and technical debt will be worth the price of admission!)

Without excessively scooping myself, here’s a taste of what we’ll talk about in the presentation:

  • Premature go-to-market acceleration.  Stepping on the gas too hard, too early and wasting millions of dollars because you thought (and/or wanted to believe) you had a repeatable sales model when you didn’t.  This is, by far, the top scale-up mistake.  Making it costs not only time and money, but takes a heavy toll on morale and culture.
  • Putting, or more often, keeping, people in the wrong roles.  Everybody knows that the people who helped you build the company from $0 to $10M aren’t necessarily the best people to lead it from $10 to $100M, but what do you do about that?  How do you combine loyalists and veterans going forward?  What do you do with loyalists who are past their sell-by date in their current role?
  • Losing focus.  At one startup I ran, I felt like the board thought their job was to distract me — and they were pretty good at it.  What do you do when the board, like an overbearing parent, is burying you in ideas and directive feedback?  And that’s not mention all the other distraction factors from the market, customers, and the organization itself.  How does one stay focused?  And on what?
  • Messing up international (USA) expansion.  This is a European conference so I’ll focus on the mistakes that I see European companies make as they expand into the USA.  Combining my Business Objects experience with my Nuxeo and Scoro board experience with both Balderton and non-Balderton advising, I’m getting pretty deep on this subject, so I’m writing a series on it for the Balderton Build blog.  This material will echo that content.
  • Accumulating debilitating technical debt.  “I wear the chain I forged in life,” said Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol and so it is with your product.  Every shortcut, every mistake, every bad design decision, every redundant piece of code, every poor architectural choice, every hack accumulates to the point where, if ignored, it can paralyze your product development.  Pick your metaphor — Marley’s chains, barnacles on a ship, a house of cards, or Fibber McGee’s closet — but ignore this at your peril.  It takes 10-12 years to get to an IPO and that’s just about the right amount of time to paralyze yourself with technical debt.  What can you do to avoid having a product crisis as you approach your biggest milestone?

For those in attendance, we will have an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session after the presentation.  I’ll post my slides and the official SaaStr video after the conference.

This should be fun.  I hope to see you there!

My Perspectives on Growth (Presentation)

In my new capacity as an EIR at Balderton Capital, I recently gave a presentation to a leadership meeting at a high-growth, Balderton-backed startup offering my perspectives on growth and the challenges that come with it.

I discussed these five challenges:

  1. Next-levelitis, an obsessive focus on scaling everything to the next level.  (Which is great if not overdone.)
  2. Absorbing new leaders, (aka, “FBI guys”) and the challenges that come when hiring the wrong next-level people and they blow themselves up at the start.
  3. Conflation of regional culture and opinion, a common problem in international expansion.  (What’s a bona fide regional difference vs. a difference of opinion masked as one?)
  4. Missing an opportunity that you want (aka, getting “passed over” for a promotion) and what to do about it.
  5. Getting things wrong to get other things right.  Startups are 100% about getting what matters right.  Which begs the question, what matters?

The slide deck is below.

 

By the way, you have to watch the referenced Die Hard videos; they do a superb job of portraying what it feels like in these situations:

“I’m Dwayne Robinson … and I’m in charge here.”

“Not any more.”

Unlearning As You Scale: Presentation from a VC Portfolio CEO Summit

The good people of Costanoa Ventures invited me to speak at their summit where they gather portfolio company CEOs to participate in an impressive set of sessions related to building and scaling startups.  I was honored to be in the company of friends and respected colleagues like Nick Mehta and Rob Reid as presenters at the conference.

Costanoa asked me to speak about un-learning at this year’s un-summit and, as a (sometimes, some might say frequent) contrarian, I was only too happy to do so.  The slides from the presentation are below.  I focused on 4 topics:

  • The sensible application of the popular Silicon Valley adage, “the folks who got you here aren’t the ones who will get you to the next level,” and how to reconcile it with an older, even more popular adage:  “dance with who brung ya.”
  • Generalizing the next-level adage beyond people to systems, processes, and operational strategies.
  • Things to do and pitfalls to avoid in recruiting next-level executives, with a particular focus on avoiding very successful people caught in the lather/rinse/repeat trap.
  • Critically thinking whether you have been successful because of, in spite of, or independent of a list of your company’s practices, values, and deeply held beliefs

This slides are here and embedded below.

Thanks to Greg Sands, Martina Lauchengco, and Rachel Quon for inviting me and giving me such a great topic to work with.