Organizational Growth: the challenges and beauty of scaling up your business

Reading it is nothing like living it.

How to understand when it is time to professionalize your organization and how does it feel? Gaia Montelatici, Co-founder & Lead Content Developer @Impact Hub Belgrade, shares her very own experience and advices.

Even if we have seen it, studied it, calculated it, planned it, we are really never prepared until we experience it. Only then, we really relate to it from an emotional, social and intellectual standpoint. Before that, the mind remains still detached from the other senses and from the hearth. We tell kids all the time that fire burns, but it is only when they really put their finger on fire that they understand what it means. That’s exactly the same thing with the growth of an enterprise and organization.

When we start our ventures we know the stages well: prototype, proof of concept and product-market-fit, expansion of traction, scaling of products and business model and business maturity. And growth takes place throughout the journey. And growth is not only scale, it is also the development of organizational skills, competence, functional systems and processes to sustain operations, scaling of products, market and sales. Obviously, organizational development and growth requires professionalization. But how do you know when it is time to professionalize your organization?

Lean and agile approaches focus on the development of product-market-fit that is not weighed down by heavy operations, processed-based functioning systems that may slow down testing on the market that needs to happen in a fast, flexible and proactive way.

This is one of the most adrenalin-pumping stages: it’s fun, interactive, intuitive and very dependent on interactions with people. There’s no way and no reason to stop the entrepreneurial energy of the forming team at that point!

But at a certain point, the team needs to develop a structure that allows more complicated transactions, the development of more professional services and products and strategic planning and decision-making. And no matter how many books we red and how many advisors have warned us in advance, it is my experience that only when we truly have direct experience of specific “signals”, we know our organization has to go more professional.

To speak concretely, what you are offering is recognized, people like it and talk about it, new inquiries flock, upgraded versions and new services are launched responding to customers’ growing needs. And again, organizations approach you with offers and proposals opening the way for potential strategic partnerships. Media run after you instead of the other way around; the “likes” on Facebook become leads and customers…Well, how do you handle all of this?

Because in truth, though you have been working hard and you keep to be perseverant and you have been planning expansion since the first prototype, well the above signs of expanding traction and opportunities do happen at once. Not alone, not in isolation, not because of one measure or the other you have implemented. But definitely because of all you have been doing, planning, putting in action, pivoting. All of it accounts for the “breaking through” but this does not happen “by the book” gradually, so you can plan organizational growth accordingly. It just storms in and you need to handle it. And handling it can very much feel like “growing pains”:

“There are not enough hours in the day”

• Spending too much time “putting out fires”

• Not being aware of what others are doing

• Understanding about where the venture/organization is headed

• Believing that “I have to do it myself if I want it done correctly”

• Meetings are a waste of time

• Very little follow-up on plans, so things just don’t get done

• Growing in sales, but not in profits

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s very easy to understand this whole dynamic, visualize it and I know you have seen it and tried it out. I believe that besides the difficulty of the predictability of when “scaling” is actually going to kick-in, organizational growth may be difficult to achieve in synchrony with market development and model validation because it entails also a switch in the working and functioning mode of the lead entrepreneurs.

So far they have been the ones who both “run the show” and made things happen in practice. They have been investing all of themselves, living on adrenaline, viscerally feeling every “no” and “yes” and working for the constant design and success of the solution. And then, all of a sudden, instead of continuing to realize their passion through the innovation, they sort of have to take care of the organization that will further boost the product development.

It’s like switching from a B2C to a B2B and there is always an instinctive fear that things will not be the same anymore. That structure will strangle the entrepreneurial attitude, that procedures will de-humanize relationships, that informality will be replaced by more traditional/formal working modes. There is a fear that organization building is actually a threat to the very culture of innovation and entrepreneurship and to “organic growth”. But the opposite poses higher risks of failure, actually limiting the options and impeding businesses to thrive, unable to cope with demand and to reach sustainability.

There are very many structures and professional models that we can look at in order to still implement the lean and agile business models. And we can readjust all those models to whatever it is that our organization needs. That’s a lot of fun and a true constructive challenge….:)

Let’s keep the conversation going

  • Write me at gaia.montelatici@impacthub.net
  • Come to meet us at Impact Hub Belgrade, in Ulica Makedonska 21, Belgrade