L-SPARK’s Mentor blog series features expert advice for startups from our community of mentors and advisors. This week, Andrew Jackson, who has guided the growth of both private and public startups to large enterprises, talks about scaling a startup sustainably. Andrew has over 25 years of experience commercializing first-generation technology at companies including JetForm, MGI Software and FreeBalance. He has also helped successful startups and does independent consulting work in areas such as customer discovery.As an L-SPARK mentor and member of the Business Development team, I see companies coming in to our Incubator and Accelerator programs at slightly different stages. Some require ample attention to customer growth strategies, while others should focus on marketing, for example. In all cases, the first job of an L-SPARK mentor is to find out what success means for every individual company, and what they want the company to look like after the duration of the program.
These objectives contribute to the ultimate goal of sustainability. Here are the 4 main components to consider when ensuring that you grow and scale your startup in a sustainable manner.
Sustainability in a startup mainly hinges on finances. A company has to hit the point where they can sustainably invest in new product and new market growth, but do so profitably. This point varies from company to company, based on their approach or strategy to growth.
Product development and commercialization.
In order to commercialize a product, you want it to have as little variance from customer to customer. You can still have lots of configurability built in to the product so it looks and feels slightly different to every client. However, to truly have a commercial product and to truly get the kind of margins that you want in a software business, you want to be doing as little customization and as little “hands-on” service type work as possible.
A lot is possible these days to achieve this, namely, automated onboarding. This will vastly reduce the amount of time a startup organization actually has to spend with each customer to get them onboard to a SaaS product, for example.
It’s key to have a real sense of where you fit in the market. Visualize the aims for your product as a dart board and imagine what the bull’s eye and other rings represent. If product suggestions or demands take you away from what’s on the dart board, spending time on developing is not worth it.
While it’s important to obtain feedback from customers, make sure you are spending time on product features that correlate to your dart board.
Before you invest in hiring and training a sales force, be sure you understand what your repeatable sales process is. In a startup, it’s crucial to first figure out what the formula is to acquire customers.
One of our portfolio companies has figured out what sales process works for them. They’re now going to package that up and teach their partners and resellers how to sell.