And that's a wrap! Here are the stand out SUE challenges from 2021
December 8, 2021
In June 2021, we announced the launch of ScaleUP Europe, an invite only peer network for developing scaleup teams. ScaleUP Europe was created to address one of the most pressing challenges high growth companies face–the need to upskill emerging talent.
As we come to the end of the first calendar year running ScaleUP Europe meetups, and chatting to emerging leaders across our network of 25+ scaleups (including Olio, Lendable, SeedLegals, and Duffel), we reflect on the common challenges we’ve seen, and outline some suggested solutions.
The stand out theme throughout conversations with our members who sit in product teams is how to communicate and align product vision and prioritisation effectively with the rest of the organisation, and with customers. This also ties into another common challenge shared amongst all rapidly growing scaleups, the need to add processes to improve efficiency. During our meetups we spoke to Heads of Product that were struggling to get product feedback or buy-in from other departments, or who were spending time and resources getting customer feedback themselves, when other departments were collecting feedback naturally (sales teams and customer success teams deal with feedback daily in their roles). Closing the feedback loop is a simple way to get the team (and customers) bought into the product vision, and many of our members took action to put a framework similar to the one outlined below around feedback in place, making product prioritisation easier. Want to find out more? This article on building an effective customer feedback loop for product should help.
Hiring is a huge challenge for scaleup teams, however, it manifests in tech teams in a very specific way. The number one challenge brought to ScaleUP Europe tech meetups was very clear ‘how do I efficiently build new tech when all this legacy tech already exists, built by someone who has since moved on from the company’. This challenge came up at every single meetup, and building new, whilst attempting to integrate with old, comes with its own set of challenges. We found this article from Forbes with 11 tips for modernising legacy tech. The tips align pretty closely with the feedback and actions taken by our emerging leaders, so if you have this challenge too, give it a read.
Attracting, interviewing, hiring, retaining, upskilling, promoting, managing change, the challenges seem endless when it comes to people! Despite the variety of challenges, ScaleUP Europe conversations always ended up returning to culture. Candidates are increasingly seeking workplaces that align with their beliefs. An embedded culture that aligns with clearly articulated values and high level objectives helps attract talent. Critically, we have heard that clarity of values and high level objectives also supports teams in navigating the inherent ambiguity of growth companies with their frequently shifting priorities and organisational structure. We’ve observed that this way of thinking is increasingly “accepted” but People Leads still struggle to get the required buy-in to implement programmes to support the adoption of culture and agreed values amongst decision makers in their organisation. Sound like you? This piece from Harvard Business Review outlines the problem, pulls in data which you can use to convince your C-Levels of the positive impact investing in culture can have. This piece from LinkedIn is also an oldie but a goodie, showcasing how they used culture to attract and retain great people.
As any high growth company knows, it’s typical to have many different projects going at once. The trouble is staffing these projects requires clarity around the timeframe and budget. For projects being run as a test or pilot, it’s difficult to have certainty on these areas, and our members noted that quickly creating teams to run these projects was a challenge. Low cost tactics like using graduate schemes, interns and temporary workers don’t cut the mustard when the project’s deliverables are potentially high impact. One of the solutions identified was to create ‘swat’ teams of highly specialised, reliable individuals for specific types of projects who would be available for short periods of time, as the project was still in testing mode. The idea being that your best people are assigned to your highest value, by potential impact, projects. It might require pulling in the Head of Customer Success, two of your top sales leads and an ops manager, and delegating part of their existing work to other team members for a short period. And if the new project is a success, the swat team is also responsible for replacing themselves with team members to take on the project as part of their BAU, training them up to take the reins and then stepping back to their original roles.
Given that scale normally means a successful fundraise post achieving product market fit, our growth group is responsible for a pretty obvious scaleup challenge - growing revenue! It almost goes without saying then that a core conversation theme for our Growth Leads therefore is pipeline. Which ends up making the de facto first route, ‘route one’, an attempt to solve this growth problem by focusing attention on pre-purchase channel marketing (more ads, more awareness, more PR). A framework that challenges this ‘route 1’ thinking is an approach (Scott Galloway uses a lot) called the Clock Model. Which encourages teams to think about the customer journey more holistically, challenging ROI efficiency, and instead looks at how businesses can unlock their point of differentiation and in turn unearth new opportunities to expand interactions with customers at different stages of the customer journey. In doing so, growing revenue.
The exercise asks teams to carve out 3 sections of a clock face; pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase. In each section of the clock identify every touchpoint at which a customer interacts with your brand. And within each section, teams are encouraged to think about which touch points clear The Three Hurdles; Differentiation, Relevance and Sustainability. Are you different from your competitors, do your customers care, and can you build a moat around that touchpoint and ‘own it’? Of course, once you’ve considered all areas you may decide that you’re comfortable owning your existing pre-purchase channels, and they’re sustainable. But you might also find growing revenue is easier in less competitive areas, where you can spend less, stand out, and build a brand. Read more about how Airbnb shifted to brand building instead of performance marketing here.
What’s next for scaleUP Europe? Let’s talk about training and development…
From our conversations with over 100 Head’s of Product, Growth, Marketing, Ops, People and Tech, we know that as you scale, in order to successfully fulfil your new role you’re going to have to develop skills that complement your technical skills. Specifically skills around conflict management, negotiation, leadership, managing others and taking on responsibility for the strategy and direction of your department and team. Given the consistent themes we’ve uncovered, alongside continuing to organise peer meetups to upskill by sharing best practice, we’re going to pilot a masterclass training session that covers negotiation and conflict management early in the New Year. If this sounds like something that would be useful to you and that you’d like to explore get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org