Maturity Map- Momentum Stage: 15-30 employees

As part of the Maturity Framework Series, today we’ll look at the Momentum stage, for companies with teams of 15-30 employees. Here’s what companies at this size are thinking about*.

Company Maturity Map by number of employees

You can learn more about the Early Stage here.

Momentum Stage: 15 — 30 employees

Your product feels more real than ever before. You have customers using your product, suggesting features, and needing help canceling. So goes the rhythm of a company with momentum. You have money in the bank but are working to find that balance on how fast or slow to spend. You’ve heard not to be ‘penny-wise and pound foolish’ but what does that really mean? VCs invested growth capital, not stay the same capital. It’s time to grow the team beyond the 15 loyal team members who got you this far.

You’ve either found product market fit or are continuing to grow but not exactly how you expected. The previous months of product and customer development help determine who should be hired next. You may be adding more to your engineering team, sales team or community team. Wherever there feels like the biggest opportunity for growth is where you’re staffing up. However, these next hires aren’t exactly the same as the ones you made to get to 10 FTE.

You may finally convince that former colleague from Twitter, Google, Facebook, Samsung, Apple or (insert large tech brand here) to join your team. The hires bringing more experience in a particular area. They have war stories, set processes and advice that sounds very similar to, “When I was at Twitter, this is how we approached building our sales process from scratch.” They have higher salary expectations and will bring more authority than your founder may be used to. The advice “hire people smarter than you” works, but it’s a shift away from the way things have always been done.

Bringing on more specialized talent doesn’t necessarily mean their role on the team will be 100% what their title entails. The VP of Engineering may be managing your team of 7 engineers but they may also be required to ship code 50% of the time. The Head of Sales may be working alongside 2 other sales people but feels more like an individual contributor than a full time manager. Making these hires is an investment in the future team as you’ll need more leaders before you know it. Amazon’s two-pizza rule is popular for a reason, having more than 8 people on one team is too many. If you get to 9 engineers, divide into two smaller engineering teams.

The move up to 30 employees may take a long time as some people will move on as new hires are hired up. The more specialized hires will work alongside your existing team but may scare a few early team members away. The early employees may feel like things are ‘changing’ or becoming ‘too big’. Don’t fight those people who leave. Anticipate it, acknowledge it to your team: Where we are is not where we started, where we’re going will bring more change too. Those who are excited about the future are welcome. Those who are looking to move on, we wish them well.

Teams that grow to 30 will expand the types of roles that are required. At fifteen employees you will likely need to hire an office manager if you haven’t yet. Having someone fully dedicated to making sure the office has everything it needs to be productive becomes a priority. In the early days, even the CEO would run out to refill handsoap, TP or pick up lunch. Now there are deadlines and products to be built, making sure there is a productive environment for the team to succeed is not an after thought. The office manager at this size often have a secondary role in the company too. They may also serve as a temporary executive assistant, QA manager, community manager or HR coordinator. As the team grows to fill those roles, the office manager role will expand to serve the larger company too.

Having the CEO interview every potential candidate may get unwielding. It’s good for the CEO to agree on new hires, as it should be her top priority, but it’ll become challenging to schedule time with potential candidates, 1-on-1s with existing employees and leave head space for leading the company. It’s best to get to work on a strong interviewing process, even if just a few steps in a google doc, to make sure top candidates get through and mediocre candidates don’t take more time than they’re worth.

You’re still at the point where it’s easy to remember everyone’s name on the team. You may need to change your old policy, everyone in the company going out to lunch with a new employee, to ordering lunch in for everyone as restaurants don’t seat 20+.

Each new hire brings something new to the table, you’re expanding the expertise of your team to become the company you’re all working so hard for. More people with diverse backgrounds brings more conflict. That difference in opinions and experiences is what helps drive the business forward, but it’s something to make sure is propelling the team forward, not sideways.

Over communicating is essential as this stage, it’ll feel like work, it’ll feel like too much but it’s necessary to help keep the team on the same page. Gone are the days where you could all give updates in a daily stand-up. You need to protect peoples time but make sure they understand the message. You should have a weekly Townhall meeting to keep the company up to date on where the company is, what everyone is working on, and the vision of the company (repeat it every week). This drumbeat is essential, especially as the company grows. Make sure to share news, good and bad. If you only show numbers that are positive or always increasing, you’ll build a culture afraid to fail or terrified if you miss goals. Find the balance of transparency at this stage.

When you continue your focus on the team communicating, make sure multiple voices are being heard. Be mindful that a culture that only recognizes the ‘old guard’, or early employees, is demotivating for new employees. Equally, the leadership of your company may need to make themselves more available to new employees. It’s easy for an early employee to walk up to the CEO and ask a question, something they did in the early days, but more intimidating for someone who just started. There are invisible barriers that new employees try not to violate, as a leader, make sure you are creating equal access to your time.

Be the place you want to work. You are building this thing together. There will be great successes and big mistakes. Cherish these, celebrate these because this is the culture you are going to bring with you for the next year. If you think there are people in the company at odds with the growth, don’t be afraid to let them go, they will bring down other team members too. It’s important that there is alliance in where you are all heading together. Having a team of thirty will feel like a big group, but it’s a stepping stone to where you will soon be. Don’t let looking backward to how things were keep you from moving the company forward. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Your team is all here for the right reasons, help remove any barriers preventing them from doing their best work.

Current state of the organization:

  • Everyone attends a weekly Town Hall to learn what’s going on.
  • Founder should be focused on vision and hiring up.
  • More specialization in new hires, little or no management hierarchy.
  • You’re building expanding sales, engineering or support teams based on company demands.
  • You have consistent customers and start to see your first churn.
  • More perspectives in the company mean more disagreements.
  • You may see company culture become more dominated by sales or engineering depending on your business.

Things you’re doing for the first time:

  • Figuring out role requirements for the new roles
  • Hiring an Office Manager
  • Moving away from the CEO interviewing every potential candidate
  • Increasing communication: Town Halls and more tech tools
  • Keeping an eye that ‘first hires’ and ‘new hires’ are working together
  • Involving your investors in quarterly strategy discussions
  • Creating meaningful data dashboards to update weekly
  • Hiring more experts instead of just generalists
  • Increasing the size of your support or community to scale with customer growth
  • Deciding on titles for new and existing hires
  • Right sizing equity and compensation for more experts
  • Nailing down your KPIs to align with the company vision
  • Conducting a refresh of your company Mission, Vision & Values
  • Managing team morale when things don’t go as planned
  • Setting team expectations that some employees may leave
  • Trying to manage low performers or firing any bad hires

What you’ve already solved:

  • Investors and immediate runway
  • Filled 80% if not more of the board seats
  • Working location: new office or sublet
  • Technology stack — dominant language
  • Mobile platform roll-out schedule
  • Milestones you’re going to accomplish in the next 3 & 12 months
  • *For the full list, see the Early Stage Maturity Map*

Software you use:

  • Payroll — JustWorks, Paychex, ADP or Zenpayroll
  • Benefits — JustWorks, or Zenefits
  • Accounting — Quickbooks, Intaact, or Netsuite
  • Google Apps for email and documents
  • Dropbox
  • Google Analytics plus MixPanel or Localytics for data
  • Flurry Analytics plus Localytics for mobile
  • AWS, Digital Ocean or your own servers
  • Mac books (possibly through business financing)
  • Zendesk or Desk for customer support
  • Sprout Social or Hootsuite for Social Media
  • Sticky notes on a wall, Trello, Asana or Jira for Product Management
  • Permissions & software sharing: Github
  • Highrise, Bases or Sugar CRM for sales pipelines
  • Careers 2.0 and Indeed to hire outside of your network
  • If accepting payments, Stripe, Amazon, Dwolla, or PayPal
  • Skype or Google Hangouts for remote meetings

Who you need to know:

  • Real estate broker for your new or next office
  • Architect or interior designer for office setup
  • Lawyers to review equity documents and to negotiate contracts
  • Local meetup attendees to recruit new talent
  • Influencers on blogs, at hackathons or at events who will promote you
  • Journalists, via Twitter or friend-of-a-friend, to write-up new features
  • Skilled friends who may be willing to leave for a ‘startup job’
  • Mobile platform gatekeepers who will provide feedback on your app
  • Part-time accountant to manage the company books
  • Recruiting agencies that can help with hard to find hires

Additional decisions that may start in this stage:

  • Having multiple offices or remote employees
  • Offering your product in more than one language
  • Securing visas for international candidates
  • Hiring outside or in-house council, for more regulated industries
  • Negotiating a lease on a new office
  • Hiring a part-time HR manager or full-time recruiter

If you have something to add to this list, please share in the comments or send me a line on Twitter.

Next up, the Expanstion Stage, going from 30 to 50 employees. To subscribe to updates via email, sign up here.


*Please note, this outline is based off of trends I’ve seen in venture-backed startups. It very easily could apply to bootstrapped or non-venture funded companies, but not necessarily. In this outline I assume the company has taken funding, whether Seed, Series A or B.

**We’ve invested in a number of companies mentioned in this note. For a full list, visit our Portfolio Page or find opportunities with them through the USV jobs page.