“When in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout”
There is a very specific sweet & sour spot in the life of a product startup that every entrepreneur remembers with a loving cringe – that moment in your company’s lifecycle when something clicked, months of market penetration efforts paid off and users started swarming in.
Life on the Brink
That moment can last weeks and sometimes months, and is defined by the sudden gap that’s created between needs and resources. Users’ needs grow overnight, while the resources remain the same, and the challenge your team is instantaneously presented with, is maintaining a reasonably functioning product while (temporarily) understaffed and under-powered.
That temporariness creates a sense of uncertainty that gradually affects every last member of the team. This is a good uncertainty, rooted in optimism, anticipation, and a giddy pride in being part of the success.
However, many of the solutions provided during this time are patches, ad hoc solutions that will need permanent fixes when the dust settles somewhat. Here are a few things to watch out for and try to implement smartly, as much as the shifting ground allows.
Perpetual lag in User Support
Support is undoubtedly the area of operation that gets hit the hardest. Support requests quadruple themselves overnight and suddenly one person providing email support is no longer enough. The nature of support requests also takes a turn: this second wave of early adopters bring usability questions, more feature requests and plenty of bug reports.
This is a good time to start considering support automation tools, chat support solutions and to start planning your knowledge base. Those will all take a load off the team members providing support and allow you the leeway to build a good support team on your terms.
Marketing resources vs. audience expectations
On one hand, rumors of your product’s awesomeness are starting to spread. Reviews are popping up, followers are flocking to the company’s Twitter account. On the other hand, your website still looks like it’s built on a free WordPress template and you don’t yet have a marketing strategy.
There’s no real way around it. This when you hire a marketing director, set out a few urgent fires and work with her to start aligning your branding and marketing strategy with your overall business strategy. The good news is – there won’t be a massive churn because your logo looks like a favor from a friend. In fact, the state of things is probably far less terrible than you think. Hey, it got you this far.
Raising the RIGHT investment
This thought is part of a wider approach to product startup growth at critical points that says: “grow smart, not fast”.
Many of the decisions you’ll make at early points in your company’s way will prove to be significant. That doesn’t mean they can’t be changed, but these decisions will most certainly establish your direction and visibility for the stages that follow.
It doesn’t look like it, but this is exactly the time to stop, every now and again, and thoroughly consider the next few steps. Revisit your penetration strategy and target audience. Decide, along with your co-founders, who you want to let into the leadership positions and how much power you’re willing to offer stakeholders.
Changing your perception about your company
The most important change you will be required to make during this transition phase, is to start thinking about your company in terms of, well, a company. Up till this point, everyone on the team was thinking in terms of “team”, “product”, “startup”.
This is where it all changes: growth comes with expanding gravitas and responsibility – to your users, employees and to your brand. It is finally really becoming a “we”, with everything that entails – budgets, contracts, campaigns, work spaces, smarter workflows.
These few weeks are a good opportunity to start growing into those shoes, exercising consideration of the “we”. Growth is as much about stretching sideways as it is about reaching upwards.