The real challenge of scaling startups
Failory estimates that 90% of startups fail, and it is most common for startups to fail during years two to five. Ben Fletcher launched the tech event Velocity2 to help later-stage technology businesses avoid this fate and thrive. Through his experience running several companies, and working with others at Fast Growth Icons, he found that the same issues came up repeatedly. His new London event Velocity2 originally aimed to give practical advice and insight to address those issues; the real added value was frank and powerful discussion about the challenges different companies and teams faced.
During the two-day event, most talks were refreshingly open about the mistakes that had made and the challenges they faced. April Dunford, founder of Ambient Strategy, talked about a misjudged market positioning that almost killed a billion-dollar business. Patrick Campbell, founder of ProfitWell, gave a wonderfully frank talk about founder struggles giving processes and advice on how to move forward and make decisions when the going gets tough. Countless other talks mentioned their failures and their current challenges. These were the talks that added real value to the conversation, not those that highlighted everything wonderful that had happened to the company.
Keep questioning and always remember your customer
Ideas that stood out included April Dunford’s advice to avoid automatically going to your default market position, which could write off a business with a lot more value packaged in another way. Alicia Carney, product marketing manager from Deliveroo, provided a great business case to listening to your customer, as did several other talks. Ruth Guthoff-Recknagel, head of product at Doctor Care, talked about the power of cross-functional teams. Matt Lerner, founder & CEO, Startup Core Strengths, advised about finding the right KPIs and the importance of finding your north start metric to guide the whole business.
Other practical issues that were covered included how to develop the product range, hire and manage the right people and maintain cash flow. After several presentations, however, only one thing was clear: there is no single answer. Ben Fletcher himself said his experience has convinced him there’s no silver bullet to an issue.
Business leaders must remember everyone has issues, and although things are going well, there will be a point you’ll hit an issue. Stay humble, keep questioning yourself, talk to your peers and don’t forget your customer. What you do has unlimited possibilities.
The biggest failure is thinking you won’t go wrong
Ben talked about a concept he likes to call delusional optimism. “Staying optimistic is great; you have to have some element of this to create a startup. Thinking everything is going to be okay when you may be failing, or even when things are going great can be naive and sets yourself up for ultimate failure.” Ben and his openness at Velocity2 are helping to shape the debate so that others can admit to their mistakes and move forward honestly and purposefully.
The serial entrepreneur and agile management specialist Jurgen Appelo ended the event with the stark reality most startups will fail. He used this to empower us all. His message is that most startups must accept they will fail but can use that experience to help others and the next generation of companies. Sharing those lessons honestly and earnestly is perhaps the most influential thing we can do and may indeed help your company thrive instead.