At its core, growth must be dynamic. Smart ideas and cutting-edge products or services are key ingredients to the success of any startup, but in order for emerging companies to truly scale, it’s necessary that company leadership take a very active and thoughtful role in that growth. There are various events that inevitably drive growth—financing rounds, product launches, mergers and acquisitions, public offerings, marketing and PR initiatives. Growth for growth’s sake is not necessarily beneficial to a company. There are many implications to consider.
We offer a list of ten questions we believe every company should be asking themselves before these major growth catalysts occur. The earlier in the process that a company asks these questions, the better prepared they’ll be to drive valuable and sustainable growth.
1. What defines growth for my company?
There are different forms of growth that companies can take on—revenue, profit, customers, employees, etc. For many tech companies, for example, growth is not about profit, especially at the outset. Rather, often it can be about customer acquisition and overall revenue. Some long-standing public tech companies still remain unprofitable to this day, in spite of huge valuations.
2. What are the upsides and downsides of my company’s future growth?
It’s commonly assumed that growth = success and all good things come with growth. But there are many potential downsides to consider when preparing for a company’s growth—for example, loss of collegiality and company culture.
3. What headline represents my growth story today, and in what publication would it be placed? What headline would ideally represent my company at its time of exit?
If your company were to be featured on the front page of any major publication, which one would it be and what would the headline read? Thinking this through early on is a great way to paint a more tangible north star for the company. Thinking through who would feature your company (your advocates) and who would read the story (your target customers/partners) helps define your distinct brand of success.
4. What do I want my company to be known for?
In line with the above exercise, can you succinctly describe the key takeaway for your company? Depending on your vision, this can focus on areas such as product, people or overall reputation. Companies often underestimate the value of market differentiation—what the company stands for.
5. What do I want my company to not be known for?
This question ultimately targets the blind spots—what potential risks are out there? Is your industry controversial? What could your competitors say about you? Growth will generate interest but also invites criticism. It’s important to think early on about what you could be known for and would like to steer clear from. Consider creating a purposeful action plan to navigate accordingly, and be in control of your story.
6. What key barriers remain in place today that will hinder my company’s growth?
Now that you’ve identified what you do not want to be known for, consider what obstacles remain that might inhibit your ability to move forward. Some of these barriers may be within your control to clear and others may not. By way of example, in spite of a compelling product road map and founder story, a company could be limited by being part of an industry that investors have recently shied away from. Regardless of whether you have control over these factors, it’s important to identify them and plan to address them.
7. What tailwinds are in place to propel my company forward?
This could be a combination of favorable market conditions, newfound awareness of and broader interest in a product category, supporting growth in ancillary industries, and more. Identifying and leveraging these conditions can efficiently propel a company’s growth trajectory.
8. What is my company’s moat?
A moat is something that insulates your company from its competitors. What is proprietary and defensible about my company? This could be intellectual property, but it could also be high loyalty and switching costs for a large customer base.
9. Who is my lifeline?
When times get tough—and, yes, they do at some point for every growth company—it’s important to know who is on your “phone a friend” short list. This could be a combination of advisors, partners and/or investors. It’s important to identify these resources now and to keep them properly updated on speed dial throughout the growth life cycle. These lifelines will help you better pre-empt challenges and, when they do arise, more effectively address them.
10. What’s next…?
The final question is left intentionally vague. As a growth company, it’s important to give yourselves time to brainstorm—no set agenda, timeline or deliverables; an opportunity to explore future potential. Be bold, and as they say to authors, “keep the pen going”—now is not the time for edits.
Answering these questions is just the first step. We welcome an initial consultation to take a deeper dive, operationalize your answers and take action.