From "small start-up" to "beautiful scale-up": 6 (excellent) tips for a start-up... to stop following in order to scale well!

by | Product as a service

You are scaling: congratulations! 

You already have a value-creating product of which you are proud (or not yet fully so...).
To get to this point, you have taken many beautiful steps:

  • "Around me everyone loves it " ✔️ idea 
  • "FitFlex is first and foremost a family, we 're all about it" ✔️ team
  • "Thanks to BPI / region / love-money / VC, we developed our MVP1 " ✔️ product/budget
  • "Everyone's talking about us / we were on Good Morning Business " ✔️ traction 

Now your concern is to scale up: to grow strongly in your market with your product. The famous product/market fit.

So the context is no longer the same: in the seed phase, mistakes are valued. If you screw up, people will say your idea is great... but it's just not the right time. You'll be a guest on a podcast, and then you'll move on to something else...

In the scaling phase... You are facing investors who no longer bet on a promise, but on results revenue, engagement, mass adoption by targeted users, a good ratio between your CAC2 and LTV3... The cost of your potential mistakes is therefore much higher.

So what are these "mistakes", and how can you avoid them? At theTribe, we accompany many start-ups at this stage of maturity, and we see that the key is no longer just the idea, the team or the product , but above all the ability to take a step back, remain agile and question yourself.

Contents:

Mistake 1: Features vs. Outcomes, think "push notifications" instead of "conversion

At the start, you identified a business problem, identified hypotheses to validate that your product addresses that problem(#leanstartup). Then, for each hypothesis, you came up with a feature that you built into your MVP. And you developed it.

So you were 'feature' oriented: the challenge was to prove that the model is good, create traction and give confidence.

Now you need to move from a focus on features to a focus on outcomes , to prove that your product has found its market and is scaling.

Many CxOs come to us with their product roadmap under their arm, saying "the next step for us is push notifications"! As you can imagine, your investors don't care about your push notifications or your chrome extension. If you show them that it improves your conversion / decreases your CAC, then... it makes you scalable, and that's interesting!

🔥 At this stage, the "business value" of a particular feature is no longer just its value to the user but its ability to generate growth. It is according to the latter that one must prioritise.

Mistake 2: Turning your MVP backlog into a V2 backlog 

When we accompany a seed start-up, we often say the famous phrase: if you're proud to launch your product, it's because you launched it too late... When you develop your first product, you learn, you discover things that you hadn't anticipated, and you have to make choices within a (very) constrained budget. Generally, it's the functional scope that adjusts, and that's healthy.

You end up with a backlog4 backlog (forearm backlog for the lucky ones) even before integrating the first user feedbacks. V2 too often consists of the addition of these two backlogs. A word of advice: mourn the loss of your MVP backlog! Your MVP was used to prove that your model works from scratch.

Now you have... users ! So your product already addresses a problem, the goal now is to make it work for as many people as possible and to make this model sustainable.

🔥 Mourn the features you had set aside for the MVP and take the next step by focusing on what will improve business metrics. Go deeper into your existing product ("vertical" vision) instead of expanding the scope with new bricks ("horizontal" vision). Double kisscool effect: it's also often less expensive in development time!

The Vision Sprint allows you to determine what is essential for your product according to your context, to accelerate and optimise the next steps.
👉 Discover this methodology in our dedicated guide.

Mistake 3: (Only) listening to your users 🙂

In the start-up phase, you spend your time shuttling between the product and its first users (normally!). At this stage, you have an extremely strong asset that you did not have before: the ability to accumulate user knowledge.

Obviously, this is the grail, this is your strength, this is what you must capitalise on. This user knowledge will guide yourdiscovery5, and allow you to discover where you can generate more value and fuel your growth, beyond a simple "functional" response to a problem.

So use this user knowledge intelligently, without making it your "North Star". Keep in mind that your objective at the moment is to grow, to achieveproduct/market fit.

For example , FrontApp was quite a pioneer in making its product roadmap public: users had prioritised bricks such as analytics or data retention very early on, without this being integrated into the "real" roadmap from the outset: their public roadmap has always been a valuable input... but only an input!

🔥 Don't confuse "knowing your users" with blindly taking their feedback into account. In short, when scaling, be "user-informed", not "user-driven" (new concept!).

Mistake 4: (only) believing in your product

You have just proved that your idea/team/product combo has huge potential. That's good... but it's not enough. You are now moving from a "survival" mode to a "conquest" mode. You must therefore work around your product so that it meets its market: always the famous #productmarketfit.

1/ Start at the beginning: acquisition, including offline. Test your messages/channels/targets/timings, segment, analyse and test again: ads, A/B testing, lead generation products, door-to-door compliance...

2/ Think of a simple and free side-product that allows you to bring value to your privileged target, to make yourself known and then push your core product to them. Ex: Spendesk has developed a free tool for CFOs, to automatically retrieve invoices from the BO of the #smart saas tools.

3/ Rethink your personas, they have evolved along with you: the ones you were aiming for at the beginning, the ones you discovered along the way, the ones that generate turnover, the ones that have the merit of existing but take up a lot of your time 😅... Ask yourself:
- Are we working well with the clients we want to work with?
- Are all our teams aligned with our persona vision?

4/ Finally, if you are more of a series B company, ask yourself what room you are leaving for innovation as a potential growth driver. Do you allow yourself to launch PoCs on side-businesses to go further in the tests, with the risk of defocusing the "core" teams?

🔥 Never think that your product is enough to scaling. Now you have to add value, communicate, test constantly, innovate...

Mistake 5: looking too much at others... and not enough at yourself

At the beginning of the adventure, everyone touched everything: "Oh yeah, no, but Xav' and I spent our nights going over everything by hand, it was a crazy thing to do, and we drank gallons of coffee".

The responsibility for the product was split between the CEO, the CTO and the business teams or CSM. When you think back, you don't even have a product team at that time. In fact, you were the product team! You were extremely efficient and agile: information circulated very quickly, often verbally, you had very few tools including... a sheet of paper, a pen and some spreadsheets.

Then you grew, recruited your chief marketing/sales/product officers, and the teams became self-organised. The downside is that your organisation is segmented, your issues are more complex, you see the first frictions appear on the ops side, and this slows you down.

There may be a temptation to continue recruiting heavily:

  • junior profiles to keep up with the pace and catch up with the competition: "they are 6 months younger and 10 more, it's not normal".
  • senior profiles who bring their experience and review product aspects

Attention: the key here is to keep what works: focus on the real problems, be "lean", implement simple internal tools (e.g. no-code) to work better without changing everything. Keep this strong agile culture (sustainable rhythm, motivation, quality...) because this is what your employees have come to look for.

Finally, beware of the danger of "scaled agile", where by scaling you lose sight of... the user ! On the contrary, your users must remain at the centre of your organisation/vision.

🔥 Scaling is about growing without blowing up your costs: before recruiting to absorb the load, first think about clarifying/optimising your processes, and aligning your organisation around your user knowledge.

Mistake 6: looking too much at yourself and not enough at others

To approach your A or B series, tell yourself that your product is no longer enough... and that you are no longer enough either !

Evaluate your skills in a neutral way, and ask yourself where you need to improve by seeking expertise elsewhere (either by recruiting or outsourcing).

🔥 Regularly challenge the expertise of its teams in order to identify the needs to be met in order to continue to grow on a healthy basis.

Conclusion

These "mistakes" are the ones we have seen with the start-ups we support. The answers are obviously very specific to each organisation, and often complex to define and implement.

The good news is that the particularity of this scaling phase compared to the seed phase is that it takes time. Raising funds in series A or B takes a lot of time: use it to analyse these subjects one by one, in a methodical way, talk about them around you, call on your network.

Finally, stay agile, and test a lot!

NB: in this article we have focused on what we know: the "product" aspects. As far as the search for funding is concerned, we advise you to use platforms such as eldorado.co where you will find all the information you need!


1 Minimum Viable Product = 1st version of a product designed to achieve maximum returns with minimum effort

2 Customer Acquisition Cost = the average cost associated with acquiring a new customer (mktg campaigns, ads, etc.)

3 LifeTime Value = sum of revenues generated by a paying user

4 Backlog = means the list of undeveloped features of a product, prioritised according to their added value. The backlog evolves throughout the life of the product.

5 Discovery = all activities aimed at "discovering value": user research, data collection and analysis, focus groups, field observations, competitive intelligence, "smoke tests", etc. As opposed to "delivery", which consists of... delivering value.

Ambroise Perrachon

Ambroise Perrachon

Chief Operating Officer @theTribe

Why don't we talk?