17 October 2016

Growing from startup to scaleup

Growing from startup to scaleup

I recently gave a talk as part of the ThinkTech program to the 11 finalists and how they should approach the program to maximise the value that they could get from it. This included the fundamentals of scaling a company and why having a plan from the very beginning is so important.

ThinkTech aims to support the most innovative, technology-driven solutions to Ireland’s critical social issues to grow and scale, within Ireland or even beyond.

Their mission is to provide growth capital and support to the best social innovations in the country, enabling them to scale and maximise their impact. This strategy aligns somewhat with the Atlantic Bridge strategy which is why we were so enthusiastic to be part of the program. We add value to companies who are looking to grow and scale rapidly into new markets and help them make the most impact while doing so. We invest in companies that have developed a product and have some customers and are now at the stage where they want to rapidly grow the business, number of customers and of course revenue. Growing and scaling companies into new markets is something that we call ‘The Bridge Model’.

When growing a new company, it can be easy to just think in terms of numbers: Everyone wants more customers, more users, a higher headcount. But there's more to it than that..

1. It’s not all about the money

Finding an investor that adds real value to your company will give you a distinct advantage when scaling your company. Things like Introductions to partners, customers, seeking advice & expertise from people who have been on the same journey and knowing what is needed along the way are often a lot more valuable than the cheque you receive. 

At Atlantic Bridge we consider ourselves “Smart Money Investors”. That means when we invest, you get a lot more than just a cheque. All of the Atlantic Bridge team are highly experienced in growing companies as both entrepreneurs and investors and we invest in companies where we can apply that knowledge, know-how and experience to our portfolio companies. A big part of our selection process is making sure that the founders are open to taking that advice and the Atlantic Bridge team being part of the journey. We help with strategy development, hiring of key team members, making introductions to customers and partners and securing additional capital investment.

2. Define the metrics that will achieve your goals

Understand what the goals of the company are before you begin and knowing what that roadmap looks like can help companies determine where they are going and how they plan in getting there. Metrics such as revenue, profit, gross margin, number of customers etc. are all useful metrics that should be included in your plan. You want to know how fast you are going, measure how you are progressing and if what you are doing is working; and you also want to be able to demonstrate that speed and progress to your stakeholders.

3. Make a plan

Once you have defined your metrics for success it is essential that you put a plan in place to achieve those goals. You have no idea how quickly the months will pass and if you don’t have a plan they will pass you by and you will be left wondering what the hell just happened. A well-defined plan broken down by key milestones will ensure that you stay focused on your ultimate objective. The where, the how, what you need, what gaps you have, who can help you, where you need most help – all of these questions should be addressed when making your plan, however difficult they are to answer.

Bear in mind, you will be pulled in every direction, you will get conflicting advice, you will doubt that you are doing the right thing, you will have setbacks, things will go wrong; Make sure to set a few periodic checkpoints where you do take a step back and re-assess your goals and plans. Break the plan down into bite sized, manageable chunks. This means you can easily keep track of whether you are falling behind. And then don’t fall behind, if you have to catch up, catch up. Put the effort in when it is needed and definitely do not change the plan just because you are falling behind. That of course means setting a realistic yet challenging plan.

Seek out advice from everyone you can but don’t be afraid to challenge it or reject it altogether too. All decisions are yours to make and you have to make the right ones to meet your goals. Make sure to celebrate the small victories that you have too as they are an important part of any entrepreneur’s journey.

All in all, scaling a company is tough, but if your idea is something you are truly excited and passionate about, then you will be prepared to work for it. Enjoy the journey – just remember, that the money isn’t everything, and money can’t buy the value that hands on investors will provide to the scaling and growing of your company. Define your metrics and make a plan early. Defining the key metrics and incorporating them into that plan will keep you on track and will help you define exactly what success looks like – and then how to get there. Good luck! 

Paul Murray