Growing and Scaling Your Startup

Sharing lessons on scaling from 5 to 200+ in 2.5 years

By Sheetal Jaitly

TribalScale has quickly become one of the fastest growing tech and innovation firms in Toronto. We’ve grown from five founders to over 200 employees in just two years, and we’re still hiring for 50+ full-time positions. We started in Toronto, and now we’re in Dubai and have offices all over the United States. We are in New York, LA, the OC, Chicago, Detroit, and Boston. We are ambitious and are taking our international presence even further. But you don’t scale a business from zero to 200 in such a short time without experiencing some bumps and growing pains along the way…

So what is our model for successful and sustained growth? How do we scale internationally? Here are some best practices and mentalities that will help you scale and grow your team globally. Get ready for the long read…

Getting Started: Make Your Mark

Starting a company is one of the most exciting and terrifying things you’ll ever do but growing your business without breaking it is tough. Anyone can start a business, but it takes a huge amount of effort and resilience to scale up.

To start, figure out your product-market fit. Know and understand the trends, the market, the industry, and where you fit. Have ambition and be eager to learn about the new and next trends. Then, chase them.

So how can you best do this? Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and learn from others. By putting yourself in new situations and connecting with others in your field you simultaneously build up your network. You also have to put trust and work in your network, it’s about making it work for you by working for it. Your network is your net worth.

Be open to new ideas, let people challenge your assumptions, argue, and learn from others.

One thing I can’t stress enough: don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You learn from each and every one of those experiences, good or bad. When you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you’re in the sweet spot of learning. Whether right or wrong, hold your own and stand up for yourself. People will try to push you down, but if you stick to your opinions and boldness, and then make a calculated decision, you’ll be better equipped to overcome tough challenges.

Planning, Tracking & Measuring Your Progress

When starting TribalScale, we knew it was important to lay out a comprehensive roadmap across the business that covered top-line sales, revenue strategy, expenses, and even headcount.

A real, manageable plan ensures you don’t break on the operations and finance side. From there on, track the health of your business, and look at how you’re moving toward the goals you set for yourself. It’s that much sweeter when you hit your targets faster. We expected to be moving into our first office with 30 people at the end of the first year, but we completely surpassed those expectations and we were moving into our 3rd office with way more people.

So, how do you grow your business and hit your targets? A key aspect for us is hiring, recruiting, and our culture.

Hiring & Recruiting: Keep Diversity in Mind

Your team is most important and you need to hire the right people. Find the people you can trust, the people that will take initiative, and the people that will help you take the next step. Adding the right people to your team as you scale your business is critical. When you have a committed team and alignment on goals, you will be stronger together. When your team is smart and hungry, when they want to work and spend time at work, they will execute on the shared vision and will be accountable to each other. It is about empowering people to make magic happen rather than directing them from your office.

As we recruit, not only do we look for candidates with the needed skills, but more importantly, that they embody the soft skills and characteristics that either complement or add to our culture at TribalScale. From the get-go, know what you’re good at and where your weaknesses lie. Then, as you grow and evolve, identify those gaps and fill them with the people that will add value, compliment your skillsets, and have the experience to take you further. I truly believe that diversity is our strength. With diverse opinions you are less likely to get pigeonholed into thinking a particular way, you will be willing to embrace new ideas, and you’re assumptions will be challenged.

Since diversity is so important to TribalScale, we track our diversity and take proactive measures. I believe that it’s important for organizations to acknowledge whether or not they have a diversity issue, and the earlier it happens the better because then you start acting. For example, we really started amping up our diversity efforts when we reached the 100-person mark. Since, I’m very happy to say that we added added more females to our leadership team, currently 30% of our leadership team is female — including Kirstine Stewart, Theresa Smith, and Karen Pattani-Hason. But it’s not just about hitting a quota, diversity brings better business value.

My final point on hiring, is to adopt a hire-fast, fire-faster process. This sounds ruthless, but consider it one of the pain points if scaling quickly is your top priority. In the long run, everyone is better off.

Giving Back to Your Community

To enhance your thought leadership and presence, let others know your mission and your values. We’ve been actively involved in the community supporting diversity and other important social causes. Not only does this attract talent to TribalScale, but it also creates more awareness about such issues in the current tech ecosystem.

I’m a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all boats. Not only is community involvement and support simply a good thing to do but it enables knowledge transfer and resource sharing in the community. Then, we all have a better chance of learning and growing from each other. There are also other effects of giving back that will help you grow your business. You will become a focal point. Others will refer business to you, and they will want to join and partner with you. Then, you have a better chance of opening people’s minds and reinforcing the importance of diversity.

Think Big, Think Global

So how to go global and think big? Travel, see other markets, look at the difference and see what’s working there and what’s not. Then compare it to your home market. You can get a first-hand understanding of what works in North America and bring those aspects and industry trends elsewhere, and vice versa. Then, you will truly give yourself a competitive advantage. For example, TribalScale initially went to the Middle East because of a client, but then we realized there was so much work to be done and that there was a huge potential for transformation. We found opportunity by being in another city. Plus, having someone in Dubai, in the Valley, and in Toronto capable of critiquing the business gave us different perspectives, which helped us figure out the optimal next step for TribalScale.

Of course, there are many challenges of ‘going global.’ You have to ask yourself how to maintain culture in multiple cities? How to make sure you don’t stretch yourself too thin? The answer: cross-pollinate. Members of our team regularly go to our others offices. It can’t be just the CEO running everywhere, but the people on the floor need to move around. This allows for knowledge and cultural transfer, sharing of process, and as a whole, the company will evolve.

Surviving Change

So what’s the mentality needed to survive change?

For one, all businesses evolve in ways you just can’t plan for. So maintaining a high level of adaptability and flexibility, and being able to course-correct is key to scaling without falling apart. It’s about having an “expect the unexpected” state of mind. As you change, accept that the learning never ends. Again, do your research, read, stay on top of the news, your industry, and the market. This way you can anticipate and be proactive to coming changes and trends — especially in the fast-paced tech ecosystem.

Be a futurist: see where things are going and think about how you can get there.

Always think about what is best for the company and maximize every opportunity. It’s an “Intrapreneur” attitude, which means thinking from inside the company and wanting to create a win-win situation for your team and for yourself. Accept that your leadership style will change and your company will change, but you’ll change and grow together. Plan for the unexpected and be a chameleon that embraces and flows with those changes. Keep in mind that nothing comes easy, you make your own luck, and you need to put yourself in tough situations and seize opportunities through hard, hard work.

Culture

A key aspect of surviving change as you grow is maintaining your unique culture. A sustained and authentic culture is important for employee engagement, which is a must for long-term growth.

For us, the happiness and well-being of our growing team is just as important as the work they produce. So, we host quarterly team events — beach days, boat cruises, and karaoke nights. We work hard, and we play hard. Every week we have a Friday social, lunch and learns, and we’re always looking at how we can improve our benefits. Team building is incredibly important, whether you’re a team of 10 or a team of 200. So it’s important for us to have fun and actively participate in team building activities. The goal is to make sure people don’t feel silo’ed in their department. Create a culture that embraces difference, revolves around inclusion, collaboration, and community.

We also have rituals that ensure a level of consistency as the company changes and grows at an unprecedented pace. For example, at 9:15 every morning someone rings a gong and all employees gather in a stand up circle to share pieces of news, kudos, individual failures (#FailFasts), and announcements. Even if that gong doesn’t ring at 9:15, people still do morning stand up.

It comes down to finding the processes and practices that make sense for your team and business, whether you’re 5 or 500. Create and foster them from day-one so that no matter who comes or goes, you will always have those rituals that define your team.

Be bold, know your strengths, and put yourself out there.

This blog is based off of Sheetal’s Peerscale Talk, which you can watch here:

author

About the author

Sheetal Jaitly is the CEO and co-founder of TribalScale. He is an entrepreneur, an avid investor, and a 20-year veteran in the tech space. Sheetal works with organizations — startups to enterprise — in all industries and helps them create digital solutions that will innovate their business, and enhance customer experiences. He is committed to fostering growth and innovation in the Canadian tech community and globally.

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