From start-up to scale-up, how to create the environment to thrive in a fast growth business

Fast-growth businesses face unique challenges when it comes to scaling and growing. While other businesses may have the luxury of time to mull over hiring choices, fine-tune company culture and map out an organisational structure, fast-growth businesses need to make decisions in a short space of time.

And with the stakes so high, they need to make sure they’re getting it right first time round.

Alice Weightman, CEO of Hanson Search and The Work Crowd, interviewed a panel of entrepreneurs and fast-growth experts about how they can maximise their chances, featuring:

  • Alice Lankester, Head of Marketing at Balderton Capital, with 20+ years in marketing and product roles in Silicon Valley, working for technology startups and early growth stage companies
  • Katy Turner, Managing Partner & Co-founder at Multiple and former CMO at Tech City UK, with 15+ years experience in the technology space, including in enterprise, startups and venture capital
  • Gary Stewart, Director of Wayra UK and Telefónica Open Future UK. Previously, Gary co-founded Nuroa.es, a Barcelona start-up that raised over €4M in funding before being sold to an Australian competitor.
  • Michael Laws, Head of People & Talent at Bulb, with 15+ years in talent development, recruitment and executive search

In case you missed it, read on for all highlights from our expert panel.

On making the transition from start-up to scale up

“When you’re working in an early stage business in the tech space, you’re so focussed on engineering and development challenges and trying to build a product that other human beings will care about. But at some stage, you have to shift your eyes away from the product and when that time comes we advise the people we work with to focus on brand, culture and growth. These are the foundations that will help you scale.” - Katy Turner, Managing Partner & Co-founder at Multiple @KatyT ‏

On getting the culture right

“Getting the culture right – and doing it early – has been the single biggest thing we have done that has helped us be successful so far.

“You need to identify your culture and centre everything around it – whether that’s rewards, recruitment or recognition. It’s also important to never compromise your culture simply because it’s expedient. Never recruit the wrong people just to get bums on seats.

“All of this should be done as soon as possible. It’s like steering a ship. It’s much more difficult to steer a culture in the right direction when it’s already very big and on the wrong course.”- Michael Laws, Head of People & Talent at Bulb @mikelawsy

On the importance of marketing

“As a start-up, it’s incredibly important to see marketing as a profit centre, not a cost centre, and continually think about things like ROI.

“I’m often asked about how to find a great CMO. What companies need to do is identify whether they want a brand marketer or a performance marketer, though of course, a great CMO is able to ride both those horses. When they do get a great marketing team, they need to keep on investing in them and helping them learn new things.” – Alice Lankester, Head of Marketing at Balderton Capital @AliceLankester ‏

On positioning

“Every business exists to make a profit, but we help businesses understand their position better by encouraging them to ask those existential questions – who do we care about, what do we want to achieve. Positioning is about love and hate, drawing people towards you or repelling them. Understanding what type of customer you want is essential.” - Katy Turner

On building a diverse workforce

“I think for too long, diversity strategies have focussed too much on getting white women onto boards and there’s not been enough focus on other kinds of diversity, such as how to support black women and those on low incomes. Low-income white men are probably one of the most disadvantaged groups in socioeconomic terms, for example, and there’s often a lack of broader diversity because companies won’t recruit outside London. Companies need to do more to consider different types of diversity in their long-term business strategy.”  - Gary Stewart, Director of Telefonica Open Future UK & Wayra @garystew

On getting the right compensation packages

“In the US, they understand that if you want the best people, and for them to work hard, you need to pay them a lot of money. This isn’t the case in Europe. Here, a lot of start-ups just get the best they can because they can’t afford the best in the market. At some point, this needs to change or Europe will keep losing talent to the US. The best investors know that it’s imperative to put in money at the start to strengthen the management team. You don’t want the CEO to feel burned out because they can’t afford for their kids to go to the right schools.”- Gary Stewart

On retention

“Whenever we lose someone, I like to apply what I call the ‘cheaper test’. If someone says they are going to leave and you feel like you would do anything to keep that person because they are fundamental to the business, then you need to up their money. If you don’t feel like that, wish them well and let them go.”- Gary Stewart


“I don’t worry about retention per se, I just worry about losing people that I don’t want to lose.” - Michael Laws

On avoiding common start-up pit-falls

“Entrepreneurs do tend to be freaks, that’s why they’re able to do what they do! It’s difficult to divorce that personality from an entrepreneur and turn them into something else. Often the most successful start-up founders do have that maniacal mindset. To build something from nothing requires a lot of intensity in the same way an Olympic athlete has that drive to succeed.

“But this sort of personality type often won’t make the best managers. So managing that shift from founder to employer can be one of the biggest challenges.” - Gary Stewart


“There are certain things that can be indicators that start-ups are building up a ‘cultish culture’. Do you have a high churn rate? Is there lots of jargon or internal language? Ideally, new-starters should be able to be a part of your culture within a day of joining. If that’s not possible, they’ll soon feel left out and they’ll leave.” - Michael Laws

Posted on 29.05.2018

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