Beating scaleup stress: how to stay confident as your startup grows
While launching a startup can be incredibly exciting, the initial stages of growth can also be stressful and high-pressured. Over time – after raising your first investment, for example, or onboarding those crucial first customers – you begin to feel more confident in your role as founder.
Then, before you know it, your business starts to scale.
Suddenly, you’re faced with a fresh wave of unfamiliar challenges and demands, which can create renewed feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. This ‘scaleup stress’ certainly resonates with me, having built and grown my own healthtech, Patchwork Health, alongside my Co-Founder Dr Jing Ouyang.
Over time, I have had to find new ways to embrace scaleup stress and manage the new set of challenges it has presented.
Here are the four biggest ways I have learnt to manage ‘scaleup stress’, which I hope will be useful for any other founders who are navigating how best to support their team as it scales, while protecting their own wellbeing:
Trust in the team you have built
Trusting in the team you’ve built and allowing them to take on more responsibility and help handle the tougher decisions, is vital as your role and company evolves.
As our team at Patchwork has scaled to over 100 people, I have learnt to lean increasingly on my fantastic colleagues and the strong team infrastructure we have built, trusting others to take the lead on certain decisions and manage key areas of the business.
Working collaboratively, we’re able to meet major targets and drive forward new developments efficiently, without any of us being stretched too thin or becoming a blocker to progress elsewhere.
Harness insights from across your team
Whether they’re your ‘day one’ team members who have been there since your startup’s very beginning, or valued additions who have recently come on board, people from across your team will have varied insights and perspectives to share. Leveraging these and turning to people from right across the company for support, can help you to more easily navigate the difficult new challenges and decisions that come with scaling.
I found this to be incredibly important when approaching our Series B funding last year. Having such a diverse and multi-talented team meant we had a strong network of people to support us throughout the process. Drawing on this helped us to evaluate and tackle these new challenges with confidence, supported by the insight and experience of our incredible colleagues.
Take a trip down memory lane
As you start to tackle the challenges of scaling, it can be easy to forget how far you’ve come. Reminding yourself of all the progress you’ve made so far can re-instil a sense of confidence and remind you of the skills that you have already developed. Scaling can be an unpredictable journey and can at times feel overwhelming; in these moments, it is essential to step back and take a look at the bigger picture by appreciating all that you have already accomplished.
Celebrate the small victories along the way and encourage your team to do the same. When the stress of unfamiliar pressures and challenges arise, maintaining a good sense of your abilities and the progress you’ve already made can help bolster you to tackle them head on. Reflecting on these achievements can also help you to set clearer, attainable future goals and tackle new obstacles with greater confidence.
Don’t be afraid to lean into it
If there’s one thing that can make stress worse, it’s trying to ignore it or push it away. Rather than bury your head in the sand when feelings of stress arise, start trying to own it as a sign of your company's evolution, instead. Recognising the exciting potential this stage of growth – and the emotion it carries – signifies will help to motivate and propel you and your team forwards, instead of holding you back.
Accept these feelings – however scary they may initially seem – as your company develops, and don’t be afraid to explore new resources or avenues you can take to aid development and provide support. Whether that’s seeking executive coaching, or mentoring from other experienced operators, or spending time with fellow founders to share notes arising from common experiences – reaching out for external inspiration and support will help you to manage stress, build more confidence and feel less alone in your scaleup journey. Try to not get frustrated if things take longer than expected, have patience with yourself and remember it is all a learning process.
Stress is a natural part of growing your business, and while it can be a scary prospect, it’s important to see it not as a sign of weakness, but as an indicator of growth. As you watch your business develop, embrace the changes that come with it, harness the relationships and teams you’ve built, and be honest with yourself in assessing your own needs. Arm yourself with the tools and support to manage scaleup stress, and you’ll be able lead your team forwards with confidence through each new stage of growth.