Six Sins In Teams Turning From Innovation Stage To Operational Excellence

I started this post already 1,5 years ago when I realized anti-growth patterns in our portfolio companies. Here are some of my findings.

Steve Nitzschner
Apr 18, 2018 · 4 min read

Please allow me to set the tone for today’s blog post by telling a little tale from one of ’s portfolio companies…
She hasn’t slept for the last 6 days more than 2h per night — the last 6 months were a constant challenge too. Her eyes are bloodshot, her kids miss her presence and her brain cannot stop thinking how to maneuver from the current to the next success-critical stage. She is a co-founder and CEO, six years in business, $2.3 million on the P&L, product has a market-fit but she and her team are unsure about how to take on the next critical step with all strings attached: funding rounds, KPIs, employee changes, moving from one vertical to another one, larger burn rate etc.

Nearly every successful tech startup (I’m including myself as an entrepreneur in the digital world too) and also corporate innovation teams I’ve co-founded, observed or accompanied over the past 10 years have gone through a similar growth pain: Build MVP > get into Beta > continuous innovation > disrupt a market and then move into schematizing as well as scaling operations.

In theory, it sounds awfully simple. In reality, it’s like running a marathon without training.
By observing e-commerce, robotic, fahion, fitness or social impact Startups, I always found these are the most common patterns and mistakes when scaling operations:

Sin #1: Strategy, Mission And Vision Are Not Adapted

In 8 of 9 ventures, I observed found a lack of having an articulated strategy or sufficient differentiation from the competition. As the company moves into its 35+ employees’ stack, it lacks a shared mission and vision that everyone knows they’re working towards.
Usually, you begin with a vision statement, but you must quickly adapt and have intellectual honesty once you learn from your data and know where your real sources of differentiation and value are.
Often times values are changing and after being six years in business and ready to scale, your vision and most likely your mission should be adapted.

S2: Executive Team Hasn’t Evolved Beyond Innovation Phase

Not building an experienced or well-rounded management team is probably the most deadliest sin of all. Good leaders and (co-)founders recognize their strengths and look for talents who complement them rather than making compliments.
The hurdle ventures have to overcome are often missing additional or new mindsets and characters in the leadership team.

S3: Don’t Foresee Changes -6 Months

Another deadly sin is not to prepare KPIs (and also teams) at least six months in advance before starting the fundraising spree for any SeriesX.
There’s an insightful podcast called Financial Grownup with an . It tells you a story how you should prepare your first Series A and about the mistakes she made in her Seed round where she was rejected by VCs 148 times. The same works for innovations teams, agencies or any other digital business.

S4: Not Growing Your Team‘s Muscle Memory, Tools, Culture

It’s important to have a growth-matching or strong culture or even growth-norms that help in decision-making processes without the founders having to intervene in team decisions.

When your team is missing a tight-knit executive group, this then always leads to delays by indecision or lack of authority.

S5: No Systems To Scale And “It’s Too Early For Salesforce” Attitude

No investment in internal systems or digital marketing systems (hello Hubspot) to support rapid growth is another deadly sin which usually takes up to 3–6 months until such scaleable automation systems are in place and first experiences are made. Again, hello (no disclaimer neccessary, I’m not getting paid).

The process of “systematizing” a business quite literally involves building systems that help you to achieve scale. While early-stage initiatives in corporations or mature startups have all of their engineers working on product innovation, companies that want to scale realize that they also have to build systems to help with organizational scaling.

Some of our best performing initiatives continue to develop and maintain a marketing playbook, a human ressource playbook and even a dedicated AppStore Playbook in which they document their standards, learnings, tools and future plans.

S6: No Cruise-Adaptive Roadmap

If there’s no roadmap for growth and activities which support the growth on all levels (HR, marketing, systems, automation, crisis preparation…), your initiative is most likely already in trouble.

When you’re running at a thousand miles an hour it’s easy to miss some signs. These are, in my point of view, the most important sins you should avoid.

Important note for my readers: I’ll update this blog post regularly as I collect new information and observe more corporate innovation initiatives or Startups.

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If you want to become a better entrepreneur, learn about corporate innovation and disruption, then please read my other posts about “".

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