The development from start-up and upscaling to adult business

For many successful start-ups and scale-ups, the trend towards adult companies is accompanied by growing pains. Jonathan Aelterman (Möbius) and Frederik Tibau (Agoria) help young companies overcome obstacles to explosive growth. They share six principles that can help start-ups and scale-ups through this transition.

The best of both worlds

“If you go from start-up to scale-up, you have to professionalize. You can no longer do without structure and without processes, ”says Aelterman. “It’s not the sexiest part of running a business, but you have to tinker with your operations and your organization if you want to grow.”

“What is scaling? Doubling or even doubling your revenue without doubling or multiplying your workforce. You can only achieve this exponential growth by installing or automating processes.”

Aelterman continues: “We apply our experience in large companies to smaller scale-ups. It’s always a bit to balance on a leash. Upscaling requires processes and structure, but not too much. They should not be cumbersome. They should maintain their speed and flexibility, which is their biggest competitive advantage over companies that are much larger and have been around much longer. “

“You have to reconcile the best of both worlds: combining the creation of structures with the creativity of a start-up,” says Tibau. “The advantage of processes is that you will introduce standards, working methods and principles. This is necessary when your business has reached a certain size. But you also need to be able to keep changing quickly. If you lose it, you’ll be in trouble. “

From founder to people manager

“Start-ups and scale-ups are often run by entrepreneurs who have no experience with people management,” Tibau continues. “They are creative jack-of-all-trades that start a business from scratch and do it really well. They mess with their product, launch new features and resell with customers while managing 101 other things outside of it. In the initial phase, when you work with a small team, it is an advantage and even a must. ”

“But as your business grows, you need to be able to delegate, organize and coordinate. And then a lot of your time has to go to personnel management and communication. ”

“A good and efficient communicator ensures that he maintains an overview and tells a coherent story, without getting lost in trivialities. This is important not only for the outside world but also internally. Upscaling a business is a human business. If you do not take your people with you, it will not work. And getting all noses in the same direction is no small feat. “

“Of course there are exceptions, but the best entrepreneurs are often not the best CEOs. They are different roles. As a founder, you can be guided and coached to grow in the role of people manager and communicator, and there are certainly entrepreneurs who succeed in that transformation. But if that does not work, then you have to admit that your business may need a different kind of management and you have to pass the torch on to someone else.

You can safely stay on board, but in a role that suits you better and where your added value is greater. Remember, this is easier said than done because your business is much more than just a business: it’s your child. Still, there are some amazing entrepreneurs who are quickly shifting the role of CEO to the companies they start and help scale. ”

Frederik Tibau.  Expert digital innovation and growth, Agoria

“You have different types of entrepreneurs,” Aelterman says. “The founders who excel in the start-up phase are not always the best profiles to further professionalise the company in the upscaling phase. One can not combine all roles with each other. At some point, one has to choose between an operational role and a strategic-tactical role. The longer you wait to make that choice and the change, the more you stand in the way of your business’s growth. “

Read on: Do you want to take your startup or scale-up further? Make sure you are coachable!

dared to say no

“We help upscales adapt their growth strategy and translate it into their organization,” explains Aelterman. “Developing a growth strategy means above all: daring to focus. Should the customer experience be central? The product? The price? Choose what kind of company you want to be and monitor your course. It also means daring to say no. ”

Upscaling often runs into problems because they begin to customize products à la tête du client. They completely change their product for one customer. As a start-up business that has an urgent need for customers, you may still be able to do that. As an upscaling, you can not turn your business upside down for every new customer. Unless you’re making the strategic decision that one customer can open a whole new market, but you need to consider it very carefully. “

Invest twice as much in sales and marketing as in product development

“What we also see going over and over again is that scale-ups are underinvesting in sales and marketing,” Tibau adds. “Our founders often have a technical background, and they put everything into research & development and product development. They are less in touch with sales and marketing. “

“Striving for the perfect product is in the trouble of the founders. But if you wait too long before entering international markets, your competitors – who may have a less good product – will mow the grass in front of you. It’s a golden rule that a scale-up must invest twice as much in sales and marketing than in product development. ”

“Upscaling a business is a human business. If you do not have your people with you, it will not work, and getting everyone’s noses in the same direction is no small feat.”

Internationalization stands or falls with the right profiles

“Scale-ups are born global, which must become active outside national borders as quickly as possible in order to scale,” explains Tibau. “But internationalization remains difficult. What works in the Benelux cannot simply be copied to a completely different and much larger market. Every market is different: there are cultural differences, new competitors emerge, the rules are different.”

“It is extremely important that you get the right people on board. Internationalization stands or falls with the right profiles. It’s preferable to work with local people who even know their market. “

“Upscaling has a bit of a handicap there,” Aelterman says. “Talent is scarce, and in other markets, talent is more likely to work for better-known names from larger markets than for an upscaling. It therefore requires that you make full use of an authentic and attractive purpose, as well as formulate attractive terms of employment that fully stimulate entrepreneurship. ”

“In addition, you can also look at the benefits of acquisitions, franchises, … but then you have a hard time fitting in culturally. It will take a bit of searching for the right formula. It can also be different from market to market. ”

Inspirational success examples

“Start-ups and scale-ups need inspiring examples that push an ecosystem forward,” Tibau says. “Do not underestimate the impact of companies like Adyen, Catawiki, Collibra, Odoo, Deliverect and Team.Blue. There are now also a lot of ‘second generation’ entrepreneurs who are putting turbo on our ecosystem. They share their experiences, invest and establish even new companies. ”

“The founders of Deliverect had already written a success story with Posios and took that experience with them to their new business, which they are now growing very fast.”

“This speed remains crucial because upscaling works in a first-rate environment. Companies that receive the most capital are therefore best-armed on the global battlefield.”

“A few years ago, with Take Eat Easy – founded by the entrepreneurs behind Brussels e-bike manufacturer Cowboy – we had an upscaling in Belgium that had good cards to grow into a Deliveroo or an Uber Eats. But the Brussels-based food delivery company was ultimately blown backwards by the hundreds of millions its competitors could travel to scale faster. “

Möbius is a consulting company with offices in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. Agoria is a network organization for companies in Belgium. This article was previously published on Bloovi.

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