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The hazards of growing too fast


In the technology field, it’s an all-too-common story: a business finally lands that huge deal after years of sweat and hustle. Press releases and champagne corks fly. Then 12-24 months later the business folds. Getting to success is hard. Staying there is harder.

While the story is common, the story arch follows a few patterns: the owner remained focused on delivery while nobody managed the overall business, the owner added staff without anyone to manage them and the team that was so beholden to one client collapses when the work was done. Somewhere in the middle, internal meetings start using words like “sustainability,” “Scalability” or simply “how are we going to get all of this done?”

How do you avoid this fate?

Develop Leaders

As your team is building its technical skills, make it your goal to develop leaders. Semi-annually, measure your development progress. This low-effort, low-cost process has enormous payoff in the long run. When everyone in your organization is a leader, from the newest college grad to the crusty developer that only wants to work alone, they influence each other. Resiliency appears. Gaps minimize or are addressed organically. When do you start? As soon as you have employee Number Two you should start developing their leadership skills. And, of course, continue to develop your own.


This is the hardest transition for most small technology business owners to make. The owner or team that landed the big whale is suddenly on the hook themselves to deliver. They can afford to hire, but can they trust the fate of their company to new hires?

The adage “the skills that got you here are not the skills you need to be successful here” is so very true. For companies relying on technology products and software engineering talent, it’s doubly true. Being a fantastic coder can land you some fantastic clients, but coding isn’t the skill you leverage when it’s time to grow. Those decisions need to be pushed down to people who might not be as good or as experienced at them as you are. (Although they may be better than you, so watch your ego!) For you and your business to thrive, you need to learn how to delegate effectively.

Remove Distractions

Many small businesses hang on to activities that simply require too much of your time, often out of a sense of loyalty to the employees doing the work. Leaders’ attention is finite: during periods of explosive growth, there isn’t enough of it to go around, and it needs to stay on the business at hand. By letting go of your least-productive, you conserve your attention for what’s most important. For employees, this means checking in to make sure that what you want from them is still aligned with what they want for themselves; for customers, it can often mean allowing others to serve them, whether those others are inside your organization or outside.

Scale Your Operations

Part of business growth is transitioning from generalists to specialization. As you evolve from the small team that does it all, sales, finance, human resources, operations will all require people with skills specific to those positions. Where you, as an owner or leader, may have relied on your own abilities to do these things well enough, you now need to learn how to manage the experts. If you leave to pivot, these new experts can help you stay focused on the bigger picture issues while getting better performance than you can do alone. Modern technology makes this easy; leverage outsourcing for fast access to accounting, assistants, and support services. But there is no technical solution that can compensate for the ability to lead people or to drive quality decision making as a team.

Learn to do that and your business can avoid the business obituary of so many other talented, hardworking, good idea/poor execution, ‘what ever happened to XYZ’ startups.