Getting to Scale: 4 Essentials
When I hear entrepreneurs say they wear many hats, I sympathize, remembering my days as a CEO who also took customer support calls. Now, as a venture capitalist, I focus on entrepreneurs’ paths from chief-cook-and-bottle-washer to the head of a company that’s rapidly scaling. Most of the time, entrepreneurs don’t have a mental framework to support this evolution.
The process of scaling your company generally means doing all the things necessary to go from small to big. That may mean changing the revenue model, employee management, technology, operational processes, or customer support. Every industry and business model is different.
One particular challenge relating to scale is common to growth businesses in any industry: expanding beyond the founder or the founding team. Luckily, there is a template for achieving this.
Let’s start with the realization that there are only four basic functions needed to propel any organization: Judgment, Ideas, Glue, and Execution. I call this the JIGE framework (with apologies to Will Smith, it's pronounced "jiggy").
- Judgement refers to strategy and decision-making, usually fulfilled by the CEO. That person may be a founder, but isn’t necessarily one. The person who has this role gets to make the tough calls that separate the urgent hair-on-fire-now problems from the supercritical-but-results-won’t-be-seen-until-later issues.
- Ideas involve creativity and problem-solving. This is usually the province of a company founder who may not be the CEO. This role addresses products, but also marketing campaigns, operational improvements, and strategic direction. It’s the magic inspiration that solves business problems. In the worst case, this is a mad scientist with ADHD. In the best case, it's been Steve Jobs.
- Glue makes everything work together. Like the "glue guy" on a sports team, this role is unglamorous, but essential for a business to win. The prototypical example is in product management. This is the person who needs to get the engineers, marketers, salespeople, support reps, senior management—everyone—to produce something customers want, all without having direct control over any of them. It’s kind of like getting a room of cats, chickens, and toddlers to perform Swan Lake.
- Execution is easy to understand. It’s getting things done. The person in charge of execution gets a team to run through walls to complete a specific job, whereas the “glue" person makes sure different parts of the business run through the right walls. Execution gets coders to deliver the next update on time and without a glitch. Glue determines what the update is, gets it to market, and figures out the pricing, documentation and training.
To scale a business, each of these functions has to evolve from the founders to a senior team of non-founders. That team then has to replicate this JIGE framework throughout the organization.
Of course, the founders may actually be able to do all these functions better than anyone else, at least while the company is small (all entrepreneurs should be nodding about now). I’m not saying you should abdicate power. Rather, parcel out parts of the JIGE you’re least good at, and give yourself a chance to scale.
There may be more than four jobs on a team, but there are only four core functions. Everyone else should be a “do-er” who extends these functions into specific areas of execution. If an entrepreneur is lucky enough to have a growing market and great product, the core JIGE functions are the building blocks that scale any company so it can win.
ALAN YING: Alan is the non-executive chairman of KLAS Enterprises, a leading provider of healthcare information services. He is also the President of Polus Capital, a provider of entrepreneur-friendly capital to growing and profitable businesses based out of Houston. He was formerly the founder and CEO of MercuryMD.
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