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Growth – We All Start Somewhere

Why keeping perspective is a vital growth tool.

While growing something meaningful can be exhilarating, too much, not enough or just plain erratic growth is frustrating and each presents its own unique challenges. Of course, when we encounter these frustrations it’s important to keep perspective. Nothing worth doing is easy and we all have to start somewhere.

Pictured above is a Google server in 1999. Now in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, known as the “corkboard” server, this one one of 30 racks that housed the entire system. Today, there are tens of thousands of servers in a dozen server farms scattered across the globe with hundreds of people maintaining them around the clock. You can see what a staggeringly humongous enterprise this is in a microsite Google created for it.

The takeaway is that between the first corkboard server and the giant they are today was a sustained growth plan that worked. No doubt, along the way there were outages, failures, mistakes, hacks, and limitless challenges. But knowing where they were headed, having a plan for it and keeping that perspective is how they got where they are today.

Fast-growing companies make some critical mistakes when scaling. One of the biggest ones is losing perspective.

It’s easy to lose it when you grow from five to twenty to hundreds of employees in a short time, or you quickly onboard too many new clients, or roll out a complex array of products. So how do you keep focused?

Have an onboarding plan:
Too often, companies fly by the seat of their pants and hire others with a similar ethos. Founders are often pulled in dozens of directions per day and thrive in chaos. Ultimately they tend to hire people like themselves because without the time or discipline to create a proper onboarding plan, they seek talent who can “figure it out” on the fly in a “sink or swim” approach.

The problem is that this type of growth can’t sustain itself beyond the first round of hires. Chaos simply leads to more chaos and the whole system collapses onto itself.

A disciplined growth plan means taking the time to put a system in place. At the core of this system is having each and every new hire understand what the company is, where it’s headed and how they’re going to help get there. This isn’t something you just do once and forget. People need to be reminded and re-inspired. Share good news. Share challenges. Most importantly, keep your perspective, so others keep theirs.

Keep key partners aligned:
Your outside vendors and partners: IT, marketing agencies, media partners, PR firms all need to be on the same page. Sometimes growth happens so fast, it’s difficult to convey or anticipate needs to your partner companies. We’ve seen cases where a staggering amount of marketing needed to happen but the client’s marketing team growth lagged actual company growth so much that there was no one to oversee or approve new ideas. When they did staff up, no one was quite sure what they could do. Sometimes they would approve nothing. Other times just about everything. In the end, it’s impossible to create a system that works when the parts have not been screwed in properly.

When companies are valued and bought by investors, they’re not necessarily buying a client list, or employees, or a brand. They’re buying a mechanism that works. And that can’t happen without having a plan, knowing what parts go where, and making sure everything is constantly in good working order as you forge ahead.

Create a blueprint that’s a living document:
The first pitch deck from FourSquare is a great example of a company that knew exactly what it was and where it was going from the beginning. Disciplined enough to see where it was headed without becoming too feature heavy quickly, you can still look at their plan all these years later and be certain they’re accomplishing what they set out to do. Having such a document keeps everyone – investors, employees and partners on the same page, even if you occasionally have to change what it says.