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From Start-up to Grown-up Business: 5 Tips for Sustainable Success

If you’re leading a growing business that still looks back to the ‘good old days’ of how it was right at the beginning, the start-up phase which was unpredictable and chaotic; into a sustainable business with structure and discipline, here are 5 ‘must do’ tips to take everyone with you…

Leading a business through accelerated growth requires sensitivity to how things ‘used to be around here’, balanced with the reality of what needs to change to achieve longer-term objectives.

My motto is often ‘what got you here won’t get you there’. But that doesn’t mean throwing out the positive aspects of what did get you here. Here are some tips to ensure you lead the business growth in such a way that you take everyone with you:

1. Acknowledge Past Successes

It’s important that ‘old timers’ feel that all they did in the early years was crucial to the company’s success, and that the positive aspects (e.g. perseverance, loyalty, courage to ‘just do it’) are all still relevant to the business today.

2. Create a Story

Stories of the ‘good old days’ (including the disasters) are part of the company’s narrative – the legacy that binds and connects. But they can also alienate those who have joined the company more recently, creating an ‘us and them’ culture that is divisive (and mostly unseen and unspoken). As part of internal communications, create a mechanism by which ‘old’ stories can be seen as part of a seamless timeline into the future.

3. Introduce Discipline Gradually

The best thing about a start-up is often the spontaneity and freedom from bureaucracy and red tape. As a business grows however, it’s essential to have stricter practices re. planning and governance. Accept that people will naturally have resistance to these and give them time to adjust. Start small, and impose gradually.

4. Keep Having Fun!

Having worked for a start-up myself for a few years, I remember how much fun it was! Despite the long hours and incredible pressure, I still have a smile on my face when I think of it. People don’t want to lose that. Make sure your culture allows for time to connect, laugh and not take it all too seriously – even when it is.

5. Watch your Language

It’s really tempting as you ‘grow up’ to use ‘grown up’ business language. Sometimes it’s not necessary, and one of the ways you can honour the legacy of the business is by sticking to terminology that people recognise and are comfortable with. One client I’m working with just debated whether to replace the current name for their charitable activities ‘DTRT – Do the Right Thing’ with ‘CSR’, because we felt it needed to be broader. The team decided to keep the old name but make it clear that it would have a wider scope. Choose your changes wisely.

I often make the analogy of a start-up growing into a ‘proper’ business being similar to that of a toddler or child needing to transition through the teenage years before being grown up. The above tips will help you manage those teenage years, so you grow successfully, and take everyone with you on the ride. Any thoughts or shared experiences welcome in the comments section below!

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Comments (2)

  1. Hi Joolz, good practical tips to reminds us to hold onto the fun, spontaneity and personality that makes a business inspirational and successful, while consolidating the successes. The danger is that it becomes caught up with process and jargon. The same is true of other organisations such as professional bodies too that gradually let ‘the tail wag the dog.’
    Thank you, Kate Burton

    • Glad you liked it Kate, and good insight into how the tendency is the same in similar organisations. The only way to keep individual spirit alive at work is to create space for it to express itself!

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