A + B + C ≠ D (The game changes at the fourth round of financing)

When a startup company reaches a certain size, a number of changes have to occur to allow it to survive. Here are some of them:

1. The founders have to choose new roles for themselves.
Having been key idea-people or leaders of a particular part of the business process, they may have trouble envisioning themselves in a role that meshes with a larger company. This is OK — particularly if they are willing to go off and found another company. Where it’s not OK is in a company that desperately needs to establish processes that work for the long term, and a founder is standing in the way of moving in that direction. The impetus to change things may come from the venture investors, from other key executives in the company, or — rarely — from a founder him- or herself. ‘Tis a wise founder who knows his/her own limitations.

2. Product development has to become more predictable.
While at this stage of growth a company often is launching multiple development projects at the same time, the need to know when the process will complete becomes more important as the customer base grows and Marketing starts implementing more sophisticated product introductions. In addition, the engineers who have survived the startup environment are often close to burnout, accustomed to an unstructured work environment, and unwilling to consider that in a larger company, risk has to be reduced. What kind of risk? Things like making sure that software backups are made, versions of code are archived, drawings are in fire-safe locations, and that the website is not offering free access to proprietary design information.

3. Knowing how long it will take to implement certain features,
whether software or hardware implemented, is key to becoming predictable. Predictablity can be helped by agile development methods, which emphasize frequent demonstrations of working models, making regular estimates of output over the next few weeks and refining one’s ability to predict that output. This gives the developers a lot of say in the process, while also getting realistic “customer” feedback on features and functions on a regular basis.

4. The company management may have to pay attention
to issues that aren’t so prominent during the early startup phase, such as infrastructure (development tools, website and equipment maintenance), retention & professional development, trade associations & standards, and intellectual property protection.

5. Scaling up the company
is not just a matter of cloning the existing projects and production lines. As a new layer of management is brought in to allow expansion of the operating departments, the top management must examine its way of working, including values, culture, communications, and transparency. Plotting strategy without considering these factors can leave them wondering why the workforce isn’t following management’s lead.

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About John Levy

John Levy, Ph.D. is an expert in computers, software and storage who is available for consulting in patent litigation.

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