Scaling sustainable businesses

For more than 25 years I’ve been helping new things come to life and scale from within the heart of a large corporate and more recently, working with startups and smaller companies to help them grow.

This has been across a range of sectors from FinTech, payments, sports tech, IT platforms, sustainable energy and chemical engineering. The key lesson from this is that if you’re having scaling pains then the good news is you are not alone - everyone has them.

What I’ve noticed over time, and particularly in the last four years as a founder and a provider of scaling support to other organisations, is there are definite patterns regardless of sector. My observation is that while there’s an obvious need to consider investment, marketing and sales, there’s less focus on the operational running of a business -  the processes, structures and basic glue that makes things work.

Coming from a unique position of a large corporate understanding and having worked with a range of scaling companies I’ve developed, with help from my colleagues and partners at business mix, a clear methodology to apply to a scaling business. In my experience (at a certain scale) everyone needs to start considering the challenges of organisation, supply chains, appropriate governance, the role of the founders, effective decision making, communications and maintaining the culture and values that got the business started in the first place.

Doing so can be a challenge for the leaders of the business, who’s interests and skills and experience are often elsewhere. Typically the issues caused by these challenges have distinct trigger points. For example having more than one operational site, a diversifying client base, increased team sizes (15 is often a tipping point) or an inflow of investment (and associated expectations). What seems to be the case for 'sustainable' businesses is that some of these scaling challenges can hit earlier than in other sectors, increasing the need for earlier awareness and collaboration to manage them.

In particular I think we can see some emerging trends for the sustainable businesses that are now trying to establish themselves:

  • A need to revise a model that operates in other sectors of a minimum viable product created in the proverbial 'startup garage' Science based solutions often need wider, earlier and more industrial strength collaborations to develop beyond the laboratory.
  • A greater level of investment is needed earlier with a longer payback. A position that can challenge investment 'norms' and also starts to bring the need for greater operational support earlier in the development cycle.
  • An even greater need to develop a compelling story that reaches beyond the science or the moral imperative to the commercial application of a solution.

There is an opportunity to learn from other sectors as sustainability becomes more mainstream but also recognise some of the differences. My message for those founders starting to manage their scaling journey would be collaborate and collaborate early to find those individuals and partners that will be essential for your journey.