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From Startup to Grownup: How to Build Your Company

Working through the growing pains


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So, you think you are finally growing up? From startup, a company can either continue to grow and mature into a reborn version of itself -- or it can decline into irrelevance. Understanding what phase your company is in makes all the difference when it comes time to strategically plan and operate your business.

Many growing companies eventually reach an uncomfortable transition period between startup and established business. While this time may feel overwhelming and call back to a time of teenage angst, remember that you made it out of the phase fairly undamaged, and will do the same this time around. The good news is, countless other companies have successfully bridged this gap, so you don’t have to find your way forward alone. Take a page out of their playbook in order to scale effectively as your business grows.

We’re not here to tell you that the post-startup life gets harder. Rather, we’d like to offer up some advice regarding startup mentality and maturity. It’s one thing to think about scaling, it’s another to do it properly in order to meet customer expectations, operational demands and appropriate leadership requirements.

Get Used to Saying No

While your company is still maturing, it is easy to say yes to everything that comes your way. You are still at a place of trying to please everyone, and this often means taking on more of the wrong work. As your company matures, you have to get comfortable with saying no. At first, it may feel as though you are turning down business, but in reality, it demonstrates restraint. You will become more respected by your customers when you lay out firm limits, and employees will have a greater understanding of company identity.

Find New Ways to Feel Small

There will be times when all you will crave for is a time machine. No one said growing up would be easy, especially when it comes to business. You will definitely miss the startup days, when everyone knew each other by first and last name and you could count the number of employees you had on both hands. However, as you build your business, you will be able to find new ways to feel like that small and tight knit group yet again.

If you have more than one office or divide workloads by internal groups, begin to operate them as mini-startups. Give them the space and creative liberty they need in order to bond and innovate together. Not only will you get to reminisce on your own startup days, but it can also spark transformation in the workplace.

Continue to Innovate

As a leader of a growing company, it will become easy to fall into a pattern of the mundane. Meetings, phone conferences and more meetings will plague your days and it may feel like you're not being innovative enough. Do not let your company’s growth thwart your own. As a leader, you must try to encourage internal innovation in order to create a lively work environment.

As you push for product or service innovation behind the scenes, you want to be sure that you are inspiring the same sense of innovation for your employees. 

Always Communicate

This recommendation calls back to the idea of finding new ways to feel small. As your company grows, and you can no longer see all of your employees out of your office window, you want to find fresh and authentic ways to communicate with your team. This will not always be easy but maintaining a culture of communication reiterates to your employees that they are valued and informed.

Understand it is Not Do or Die

Most importantly, remember that scaling is a process. If you do not feel like you have all the information you need to scale, it is totally okay to stay put. A growing company will not always be moving forward. In fact, there will be many times when you reach a standstill. If (and when) this happens, remember that it is okay to take your time in order to make the most strategic decision possible.

Growing up is weird. Be prepared to make unfamiliar moves, lose old pals and gain new ones. From startup, to angsty teenager, to a mature company there will always be lessons to learn. But if you can find some pointers from those who came before you, always take them.

Jesson Prohaska is the general manager of ViTL Solutions. He has almost 20 years building and leading businesses within manufacturing, consumer goods, food and beverage, software, healthcare and environmental technology. Prohaska is known for his unique blend of skills that enable a telescope to microscope approach to strategy and implementation.

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