The secret to scaling is stopping

I’ll never forget the day it sunk in. I was on the road doing deliveries, on a conference call with my co-founders who were also out doing deliveries when one of them said the sentence we all needed to hear:

“Instead of racing out and doing the deliveries that are piling up ourselves, we need to spend that time getting other drivers online so we don’t have to do it anymore.”

We were like all other founders — eager to solve the immediate problem (lack of drivers) by doing whatever was needed to solve it right away (get on the road and do the deliveries). It’s what founders do. Work hard to scale.

Does this sound familiar? For us, we explicitly told our team that if things got backed up, start giving us routes. We made it our process so it became our process. And there we were, on the road hours per day doing thousands of deliveries instead of really moving the company forward. We even had a leaderboard for team deliveries!

We needed to stop or there was no hope of scaling properly.

There are 100’s of these side quests that early teams institute to move the company forward — guaranteed. They seem so innocuous at the time but eventually become the things that hinder real scale.

Side quests fall into three categories but don’t be fooled, they are all equal in their ability to derail growth:

  1. Internal processes
    These are dead end points that need solving but are lower priority so the team finds a way to solve them manually. Those manual processes get handed down to new employees, become instituted and the next thing you know they are part of your DNA and very hard to extract.
  2. Product development
    Gaps in the product lead to bad behaviour with good intention. It’s hard to polish product features in the early stages so often times good enough is good enough. The gap between where a feature is currently and what the completed feature should be is where side quests begin.
  3. Customer expectations
    Early in any company’s life it is your obligation to say yes to a customer request in order to win or keep their business. You will do anything and everything for every customer and this is clearly the hardest thing to scale. The expectations you set for your customers needs to be crystal clear for the service you are offering. Any variance is now a branch that you have to maintain.

Exceptions and side quests are a killer feature for early stage companies — this flexibility is often why a customer chooses one company over the other — but they are never sustainable.

To scale properly you need to hunt these down and stop them at their roots or they will continue to hold you down.