Validating a product or business model can be tough work. Once you get the green light, it's time to maximize the business and grow as fast as possible. It's also time to scale, which can mean expanding the team size, the technological bandwidth, or both. Here are some tips from the industry's top CEO's who have learned their own advice the hard way.
1. Build a strong network
In the early stages of a company, making a new hire can dramatically impact the team dynamic. If you are bootstrapped and using revenue to scale-up, a full-time employee may be too costly. Therefore, having a strong professional support network can be crucial for gaining insight on how to access talent for cheap. Jenny Karn, Co-founder and VP of Content at Beutler Ink, believes that freelancers are one solution,. "I think the single most important thing a business can do is have a strong network of contractors and freelancers". She suggests contracting out, especially at the onset, "When you have twelve to sixteen people it doesn't seem like much, but the next few hires set the tone for the company. You don't want to be rushed."
2. Make your vision resilient
Many times, company founders are the original "builders", programmers, or designers. The imperative skills needed to be successful as a CEO are often learned on the fly much later. Throughout the journey, the original "vision" can get neglected, even though it is one of the most important parts of the company. "Founders need to be constantly reminding everyone of the vision, every single minute," says Jon Crawford, CEO of Storenvy. Crawford explains, "Most founders have technical background from building a product from the ground up, and have to learn how to do the same with a team." Crawford also adds that founders should be constantly conscious how they are portraying themselves to the rest of the team. His advice to them is to "make sure to stay focused but open to feedback".
3. Outsource what you can
Understanding where your strengths and weaknesses lay are crucial. Whether bootstrapping or growing your team, it's important to find the right experts who can help lend expertise where you have a weakness. As Jonathan Tarud, Founder and CEO of Koombea, says, "Pay close attention to make sure you are focusing on what you are best at. Unless you have a team specifically dedicated to a task, hire someone from the outside to take care of the task until your company is caught up with everything else. Let it evolve naturally, and try not to learn everything at once."
4. Watch your cash flow
Bootstrapping is a tough business because you are not only dependent on what you are billing, but how long it takes for your finance department to receive the payment. Some large companies can pay up to Net 90, which means you could be getting paid almost half a year after work is performed! Profitability and scaling seems harder now more than ever (See 5 Tips for Bootstrapping). Paying close attention to cash flow is a determining factor in whether your company will grow.
5. Go with your gut
Most CEOs of emerging companies come from passionate backgrounds and are learning a multitude of skills at different times. Everyone has a different trajectory, some companies have to grow from 50 to 200 people in a year, and others have smaller goals. Do not be too hard on yourself, follow your instincts, and try to never make the same mistake twice. Focus on the product and making customers happy, and the rest will follow.
Ellie Cachette is Founder and CEO of ConsumerBell, helping companies and parents manage recalls while keeping kids safe. She was recognized by the California State Senate as an "Outstanding Educator" in AIDS and Public health in 1997, and is a Springboard Enterprises alumna.