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Forget “fail fast, fail often”, do these 3 things to scale your startup successfully

It’s an exciting time to be a startup of any size in Melbourne; we’ve got a number of innovative companies clustering in Cremorne and other inner-city areas, a lot of industry growth and increasing employment opportunities.

We like to refer to MYOB as one of the original startups – and having been around for 25 years, we’ve learned from the challenges of scaling a concept from a handful of employees to thousands, and building new products in an increasingly competitive market. Regardless of your size, industry or customers, these are the three things I believe every startup should focus on for scaling successfully.

Empathise with your customer before you sell to them

The number one thing that unites successful startups is a high level of customer empathy; really understanding the customer’s problems and being customer-led in decision-making. Founders need to intimately understand the customer’s problems before they try to solve them, and investing the time and research into this at the outset will ensure any products or services that are developed is in response to the customer’s problems, not based on assumption.

It’s important to note that empathising with your customer isn’t a “set and forget” approach. Your product offering should grow with your customer, not be delivered to your customer. Delivering value to customers early, working in innovative ways and really listening to customers should always be your first priority as a business and will enable your teams to identify opportunities for new products or services before your customers (or competitors) do. Setting clear customer success metrics that tie back to your overall mission is a good way to ensure all teams are working to the same customer-led outcomes and understand the customer relationship.

Invest in the right people and culture from the get-go

As the old saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast every day – although I’d argue that cultivating a strong culture is itself an incredibly important strategy. Being able to attract really high calibre people matters enormously to creativity and innovation, and then making sure they’re all working together and are aligned to the same goals will maximise that potential.

As the business grows, keeping a startup mentality while being able to leverage the benefits of scale is important. Keeping teams aligned in a business of 500 people will naturally be more difficult than a team of 5, but it also offers up new opportunities for team development, cross-functional collaboration and optimising processes. For instance, we’ve got very high standards for hiring at MYOB, which can be challenging when we need to hire quality talent – last year, we added more than 100 people in our development teams! To address this, we created a program called Future Makers that’s based on the agile mindset but also to help us attract new talent in the organisation. The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far; engagement in our engineering and product development teams has jumped over the past 18 months since we’ve rolled the program out, and we’ve got much stronger technical leadership across the business.

Encourage accountability and trust

Startups live and die by their results, so it’s crucial that everyone in your business understands the impact of these results and is aware of the role they play in achieving them. Working with an agile mindset is critical to drive growth and scale, but this mindset requires a culture of trust, of continual learning and the ability to break big problems into small problems and delegate them accordingly.

Accountability goes both ways; it’s about being proud of what you do and learning when you didn’t do it successfully – and not shying away from the impact of that. Rather than the oft-touted phrase ‘fail fast, fail often’, it’s more about understanding why you didn’t achieve certain goals and learning from them in order to avoid the same mistake next time. When you have people that can have those tough conversations, that can rely on each other, that are aware of their responsibilities and are aligned with other teams to drive the shared vision forward, there’s plenty of room for both the organisation and its teams to grow.

David Weickhardt, General Manager, Product, MYOB.

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David Weickhardt

David Weickhardt

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