From start-up to scale-up in 5 steps

‘Simplicity scales, complexity kills,’ says Joe Haslam, serial entrepreneur and executive director of the Owners Scale-up Programme at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain.

Welcome to the Smart Business Advice series from the RDI Hub, bringing you practical advice and expert insights from our community and network.  

On 21 October, Joe Haslam flew in from Madrid for a series of meetings with start-ups and scale-ups at the RDI Hub, Killorglin, Co. Kerry.

“Timing is everything. Premature scaling is the leading cause of death of promising start-ups”

Haslam is a serial entrepreneur and executive director of the Owners Scaleup Program at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain. He was on the founding team of Marrakech, a Dublin-based e-procurement company that raised over $75 million in venture capital and scaled to over 250 people before being acquired. 

Here’s our five key takeaways from those sessions on how to get from Start-up to Scale-up: 

  1. Mindset: Start with scaling in mind. We need to replace the term startup with the term ‘pre-scaleup.’ Remember, a startup is a temporary organisation formed to find a scalable, repeatable business model – and nothing else. 
  2. Team first: Decide on the team before you decide on the business – not the other way around. The business idea and model will change many times over. Changes to the team risk killing the startup. Form the team first and then work together on finding a business that will scale.
  3. Getting the timing right:To get to scale you have to find product market fit (PMF). Before PMF, you should be in startup mode. After PMF, you switch to scaleup mode. Timing is everything. Premature scaling is the leading cause of death of promising start-ups.  
  4. Simplicity scales, complexity kills.  After product market fit, a scaleup needs to focus on stripping down their offering to its absolute essentials. Removing, rather than adding features. In this phase, sales is less about selling and more about figuring out what the customers value most and how much they are willing to pay. Find what’s working and double down. Repeat.
  5. Learn from other people’s mistakes. What one founder does to succeed can vary widely from the next, but the mistakes that founders make are often the same. Join a community of peers and hire a mentor/coach who has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs on the same journey as you. Learning from your own mistakes makes you smart. Learning from other people’s mistakes makes you a genius.

To wrap up, Joe had this to say: “Don’t shy away from hard problems. Seek them out. Hard problems attract and motivate the smartest people. And its small teams of smart people tackling hard problems that change the world.”  

Niall Larkin
Niall Larkin is the Senior Programme Manager at the RDI Hub and has worked on getting to product-market fit with over 500 globally ambitious start-ups, scale-ups and corporates. The RDI Hub is a community of innovative start-ups, scale-ups and corporates located in an ultra-modern, hi-tech facility in Killorglin, Co Kerry.