Road mapping for success: from start-up to scaling-up

Published: July 17, 2016
Long-term sustainability is hard to achieve, founders need to be methodical. CREATIVE COMMONS

Long-term sustainability is hard to achieve, founders need to be methodical. CREATIVE COMMONS

ISLAMABAD: Things are not sizzling in Pakistan’s tech start-up scene but the entrepreneurship ecosystem is definitely catching up.

Recently, a young start-up, TrackReps, managed to secure over £50,000 of grant under Making All Voices Count programme (a partnership between Ushahidi, Hivos and IDS) and supported by four donors including DFID, USAID, SIDA and Omidyar Network.

After the acquisition of Savaree, consolidation is on the cards for businesses with a collaborative consumption model as there is a lot of zeal from foreign investors.

However there is one burning question: what differentiates start-ups that manage to scale from those that are eventually abandoned once they acquire VC funding?

Long-term sustainability is something much harder to achieve in practice than it appears on paper. However, it helps if founders have a short-term roadmap in hand. Some rudimentary steps to prepare a strategic roadmap may be summarised as follows.

Identifying strategic gaps – bringing focus and defining niche

This activity aims to crystallise the company’s mission, vision and objectives after asking critical questions such as:  what’s the ‘million dollar’ problem and what is the value proposition? Is the current business model sustainable or geared towards becoming one? Who is the “customer” here and what are the relevant KPIs?

The main purpose of this exercise shall be defining a strategic niche, cutting unneeded scope and communicating goals openly to the entire team. It also involves establishing a corporate culture and team values such as open collaboration, integrity and transparency.

HR development – putting operational processes and reporting structures in place

Most start-ups run on an ad hoc basis. Founders may have excellent talent when it comes to ‘technology’ but may not have the required ‘fiscal’ or ‘management’ skills. So when start-ups are set to grow by hiring more talent, this adhocracy won’t bear productive results. What we need at this stage is to formally define job roles, identify best practices and standard operational procedures besides establishing a system to report on key performance indicators. However, it by no means should become a bureaucratic organisation and principles should precede processes – accompanied by an accommodating corporate culture

However, greatest challenges shall remain:  employee selection and employee retention. Good compensation is only part of the answer. A winning corporate culture and a good HR blueprint is the key, especially during the transformation phase from a nascent start-up to an established company.

Product Lifecycle – execution and controlling

A start-up team needs to opt for a project-oriented approach when it comes to managing version releases. The management needs to set milestones such as release of minimum viable product, private beta launch, public beta launch, etc. Roles and responsibilities of all team members should be identified and targets should be set with mutual agreement. The team might like to use an agile approach and project managers need to be trained in benchmarking performance against baselines and identifying corrective actions, if necessary. Frameworks such as PRINCE2 and PMP could be used but again, the trick is that all SoPs must be value-adding for the company and not unnecessary burden. However putting adequate financial controls is of utmost importance and red flags should be raised early on.

Sharing success stories with the public

Finally, most of us are not fully aware of our success (and failure) narratives unless we maintain a lessons learnt depository.  The power of sharing such success stories in media with public is incredible. It not only increases the visibility of the company in general but it also increases the morale of employees in particular.

The writer is a Cambridge graduate and is working as a management consultant

Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2016.

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