What are the best practices to follow when growing a technology company fast? Which principles and strategies are successful leaders using? What are the most common mistakes and challenges when it comes to scaling a tech company?
Through the Story of Software podcast, we get the chance to interview and learn from CEOs, CTOs, Co-founders, and other tech leaders and strategists. We gather their insights to help you on your journey to becoming an effective leader. Tap into their experiences and hard-learned lessons to get a fresh perspective on growing a company and scaling teams.
Scaling A Tech Company
May Piamenta, CEO and Co-founder at Vee:
Podcast episode: Technology for Greater Social Impact
Q: What are some of the challenges that you’re facing as you scale the business and as you expand?
Challenges, well, so many. And I think that founders who don’t talk about challenges with their team, internally or externally, are in denial because you have so many of them.
So, the key challenge for me was shifting from a family garage startup to an actual company. This is a big shift that I think not many identify as a stage. It’s a very important stage in the growth of a company because you can be 100 people and still be a family garage startup, and you can be 10 people and act like a really strong company. So, for us, this shift was very eye opening and actually brought me to face many managerial challenges, hiring challenges, and growth challenges.
Number two is when the cap table becomes bigger, then you have another full time job which is managing investor relations. When you’re in pre-seed, you have like 5 or 6 and you WhatsApp them every three days, etc. Now that it is 20+, it’s another company and you need to manage this very carefully because they know each other, and they speak to each other. You cannot tell one of them you’re going to take a bridge without the others knowing that you’re gonna take a bridge. It’s such a crazy school for me. I mean, I’m learning so many things from the best people, and these challenges are a blessing.
Peter Rose, CTO at TEKenable
Podcast episode: The Rise of Low Code
Q: When you’re hiring, what are the qualities you look for in people and particularly when you are in the early stages of the business?
Early on in the business, the nature of the business is slightly different, so there’s a willingness to roll up the sleeves and get dug into pretty much anything that needs to be done. You are the octopus, and everybody in the organization has to be an octopus, doing different things with each of them all the time. So you can’t just be a project manager, for example, you’d need to be a project manager and tester and possibly support people on sales calls, etc. The website needs some content writing, then it’s copywriting for the website. As you get a bit bigger, the roles tend to specialize more. So you do have people who are project managers and you do have people who are Business Analysts, but the key characteristic we look for in them is enthusiasm and ability. We don’t necessarily need deep experience or specific familiarity with how we do things. We can train that provided you’ve got the right attitude. The thing about the business is, it changes fundamentally every four or five years, anyway. So if you’re hiring for somebody who has specific skills in some specific product and only hiring because of that, in four years’ time they may not be the person to work for you. If you are hiring for ability and attitude, they’ll always be the right person to work for you.
Rónán Dowling-Cullen, CTO at Bounce Insights
Podcast Episode: Data-Driven Decision Making
Q: You mentioned your first hire. What was the experience and what kind of mindset did you have when you were bringing in a non co-founder for the first time?
Yeah, it’s obviously a really tough one, and it’s really scary, particularly the first time, because when you’re a team of 100, adding one person won’t have a huge impact on the culture and they can go with the flow of what’s going on. But when you’re a team of five, adding a sixth person can have a really significant impact on the culture and the output of the company as well. So, we were really looking for somebody who was driven like ourselves. We always say, we keep our hiring standards really high, and we hire slow. So, we really took our time with it and we interviewed a lot of people. It was a software engineering hire, so thankfully, I was able to put on my network for people I already knew to reach out to and then also referrals, and you know, we were really lucky. Our first hire was there, and he’s been fantastic. Since he started, he’s come on leaps and bounds and he’s taking on more responsibility.
So I suppose I can’t claim that I have it all figured out, but we definitely pulled some success from really taking our time through that first hire process and carefully considering how this person is going to affect the culture. I think one question that we often ask ourselves is, would I trust this person to hire the next 10 people in the company? And that really puts a stop to anybody who might have a little red flag. So, taking your time and considering if you trust them to hire other people into your company have been two really good strategies that we’ve followed to succeed in our early hires.
Ron Danenberg, CTO at Kolleno:
Podcast episode: From Single Player to Multi-Player
Q: How can you avoid common mistakes that happen when you’re scaling a team? What should be done when you’re going from a team of one engineer and suddenly you’re adding more people to the mix?
It’s bound to be a lot of chaos, right? You can call it organized chaos, but it’s still chaos. So I think every tech team where I worked, even at Expedia, where I was part of the SEO team, I was the first techie, and so I understood that decisions you take at the beginning of a project will have a much bigger impact than you think.
There’s that idea of technical debt and the impact is so big, if you don’t think about them in the beginning. You know, even things like the IDs in your database; if you do incremental IDs, it’s nice and it works, but it has disadvantages. You can get into a collision if people write into the database at the same time. However, if you don’t do it on day one, then you have a big product, so it’s really hard to change the primary key in the database.
I think, on a human level, don’t be protective of your code. What I mean by that is; it’s a means to a goal, not the goal itself. When you are in the early days, and you’re the only developer, your code is your project, but when you bring in more people, you need to teach them and you need to show them the way. They start touching stuff, so you need to put rules and guidelines on the way the code is written, and accept to let go. You work less hands-on to give responsibilities to others. You need to trust people, especially if it’s the first time you grow a team. I remember in the early days, I was very worried like what did we break right now, maybe I should just do it myself – but that’s short-term thinking, right?
Chris Brook, Co-founder at Finbourn Technology
Podcast episode: Being Fit for Purpose
Q: Is your strategy for hiring different when you’re at 100 people? Are you looking for different character profiles, different technological capabilities? What changes between small and mid-size firms from that perspective?
I think what we’ve discovered is as the company grew, the layers of the teams got slightly deeper, as we’ve had to introduce more structure around the teams to help coordinate and manage people. What we also found is that some of those managing individuals, myself included, spent all of their day writing code. My role today is much more a kind of development manager and the same is true for a lot of those other individuals who joined us at the start. We’ve been really successful in re-filling that bottom layer with some really brilliant people who joined the team over the past three years.
The trickiest bit is trying to maintain that level of skills in the middle, kind of the tech lead / senior developer level, where not only do you need to have a good amount of software engineering experience, but you also need those extra skills around line management and supervising people. As the company grew and people moved up into strategic positions, the need to fill that gap back has proven quite challenging. I think it’s quite easy to underestimate how much institutional and company knowledge people such as myself have about the product, having lived through the company since it started. It’s very easy to forget that if you bring in someone new, they don’t have that kind of context. So a lot of what we do – now that the company is this size – is trying to continue to impress on our values around quality and testing, honesty, transparency, and working as a team. Trying to reinforce that all the time is almost a full time job in and of itself as the company gets bigger. Keeping that same culture and that same ethos is quite difficult, yet equally important.
How to Scale a Software Company Right
From changing your mindset as a leader to changing the hiring criteria as you grow, there are many moving parts to successfully scaling a software or technology business.
It is strategically important to retain your early-stage team members and allow them to grow to higher positions. Having been there from the start, not only do they have vital business and product information, but they also represent the company culture you have worked so hard to build.
When it comes to growing your company with new hires, it is crucial to take the time and make sure that these new team members can uphold and continue to build upon the values and culture you initially set out. If you focus on hiring the right people and providing them with the opportunities and tools to keep growing, sustainable growth is within reach.
At Zartis, we grew our software business from 0 to almost 250 developers today within 5 years. Currently, we have 50+ different teams working on different client projects, and yet, feel a part of the Zartis team first. If you need any advice on how to achieve a future-proof growth strategy, feel free to reach out!