What hypergrowth is like at N26

It’s an understatement to say that N26 is experiencing hypergrowth. In August 2017, we had 450,000 customers. We now have more than 2.3 million customers, with many more joining everyday. We’ve almost quadrupled the number of people in tech in that very same time.

It is my first experience of working in a hypergrowth company as a permanent employee. Although the US has its large share of hypergrowth companies, Europe has very few. In this post, I want to share some lessons learned and insights.

What is hypergrowth?

You can find several definitions of hypergrowth on the internet. I like to describe it as a company experiencing a doubling effect in growth. Some refer to this as the snowball effect.

The Snowball Effect

Or simply put:

“The game changes really, really, really fast.”
- Patrick Kua

What does it feel like?

I’m sure I picked up this analogy elsewhere, but I can’t find the reference. Regardless, the imagery stuck with me.

“Working in hypergrowth feels like you’re building the spaceship as its flying”
- Unknown source
Riding the rocketship of hypergrowth

Hypergrowth can feel chaotic. The organisation doesn’t grow at the same rate, so you feel where bottlenecks emerge. At the same time, a few weeks later, the constraint is often resolved and moved to a different area. Hypergrowth means constant but rapid change. Upon returning from a week’s holiday, many people ask, “What’s changed?” They know that somewhere a team structure, process, or decision has changed.

Hypergrowth means uncertainty. I am comfortable stating what I think may happen in three or six months time. I’m also used to being wrong. I try to put statements about the future into context, explaining possible alternatives.

Hypergrowth demands new capabilities and skills. I read how an organisation grows exponentially faster than individuals. I’ve seen this first hand. Skills take time to develop mastery. An organisation requires that skill now. Although you can wait for people to learn all the required skills, I’ve learned you need to support both. Allow people to grow, but also bring in expertise to learn from. This is why I am a big fan of pair programming (or pairing in general). It’s a great way of transferring experience across people.

Why work in an environment like this?

You may be reading this and wonder, “Why on earth would I want to work in an environment like this?” Here are five reasons why it’s worth it:

  1. New problems to solve — Engineers love tackling new problems. Our product changes all the time. We improve the security build into our product. We look at ways to scale our systems and improve our ways of working.
  2. New skills to develop — New problems and a changing environment forces people to build new skills. I have seen so many people grow in many different ways.
  3. See a business “grow up” — Every six months, it’s like working with a new company. At the same time, you have personal relationships across the business. This means you’re now always starting from scratch. What started out as a single person may now be a whole team. What was once a whole team may now be an entire department.
  4. Ability to have a big impact — Our founders have a broad mission. It’s exciting to work on something that millions of people use. It’s also great to be a B2C product where you get to use your own product too!
  5. Everyone can be a leader — Some people may get hung up on titles. Like I wrote in a previous blog post, everyone can be a leader. There are always opportunities to show acts of leadership and have immediate impact.

How we support people

Although everyone owns their personal career paths, I’ve tried to support people as much as I can. I run an explicit Tech Lead Development Program. This gives people explicit expectations and tools about how people in or heading towards a Tech Lead can improve their impact. Leaders build other leaders. We’ve been deliberate in how we structure our Product and Tech teams. I introduced a Target Operating Model. The Target Operating Model represents a written down mental model of how we’d like to work. This often incorporates new roles, structures and explains the why and the what. Although we experience hypergrowth, it doesn’t mean we do so without trying to shape it.

We listen for feedback throughout the organisation. The leadership team takes a company wide pulse on a quarterly basis. Tech teams use retrospectives to take on improvements. Organisational smells outside of influence of a team get escalated and we try to deal with them as much as we can.

I tried to create as much transparency as possible. We have a shared product roadmap. As a company there are updates about events announced at the start of each week. We end the week with company wide celebrations.

Is this for you?

I will admit that this environment is not for everyone. Our environment may be suitable if:

  • You are looking for new and interesting challenges; or
  • You love an environment with constant change; or
  • You want to work in a place which tries to manage this intentionally; or
  • You are looking to rapidly grow and show acts of leadership.

We are always looking for new talent to add to our culture. Join me on our mission, to build the bank the world loves to use. Look at our open roles and apply now.


Originally published at www.thekua.com on March 13, 2019.