Startups are defined by their speed. Get together with a friend or two, build something, launch it. It’s amazing how fast you can get something out when you’re just starting. But as the company grows—and with it the size of the product and your customer base—you start slowing down. This really starts to freak founders out.
The size of your company causes slow down. When it’s just the founders, it’s not hard to make lightning fast decisions and act on them quickly. As the company grows a bit, you start to slow down because you have more people in the decision-making process. It takes longer to reach a consensus. However, as the company and headcount grow further, the dissemination of information slows you down. Problems discovered at the bottom have a hard time percolating to the top. Decisions made at the top have trouble making it through to the bottom.
Your product itself is also one of the primary reasons for the slowdown. The size of your product tends to scale with the size of your customer base. Your users will always want something more. New features are rarely independent of each other as the integration is what turns features into a product. But more integration means more complexity. Adding new features becomes harder, and thus, development slows down.
The size of your product causes other problems as well. More and more of your time will be spent on maintenance and customer support. People may complain about our product, but what hurts most is when someone tells us we’re glitchy. No one wants to ship crappy software, but making a solid product requires fixing bugs. Time spent fixing bugs isn’t time spent moving forward, which can be extremely frustrating. Everyone hates fixing bugs, but they’re so incredibly important for your product’s reputation. Maintaining software is a huge source of slowdown on the product side.“Putting processes in place” can seem like an evil sentence to startup folks, but the fact is, processes are how you scale.
What’s interesting about all of these reasons for slowdown is that they are almost always a net positive. It’s true that adding people may slow things down, but adding people is one of the best things we’ve ever done for the company. Early employees are effectively late founders. Our first sales hire in particular was an incredible addition to the team. He is a former teacher and with him comes relevant industry knowledge. He, more than anyone else on the team, knows where education is headed.
“Putting processes in place” can seem like an evil sentence to startup folks, but the fact is, processes are how you scale your business. I don’t know how many meetings we’ve had regarding a process for managing and addressing bugs. But we have those conversations because we need to optimize customer support, a key part of our reputation.
There is a fine balance, but I’ll trade a bit of slowdown for better insight, happy customers and domain knowledge any day. Slowing down just happens to be one of the symptoms of success.