Startup to scaleup: overcoming growth pains - Part 1

10 Jul 2019

As the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub’s core aim is to help budding engineering entrepreneurs take their own businesses to the next level, we opened our doors for a riveting panel discussion event on how to successfully scaleup your startup, as part of London Tech Week 2019. With Elspeth Finch MBE, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of IAND as chair, the panel featured:

  • Irene Graham OBE, Chief Executive Officer of the ScaleUp Institute
  • Poppy Gustafsson OBE, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Darktrace
  • David Gammon HonFREng, Chief Executive Officer, Rockspring
  • Michael Hill, an early to mid-stage investor

Each shared candid stories of their own experiences that all startups could learn from, so we’ve compiled their top five barriers to scaling up, and tips to overcome them, which we’ll reveal over the next series of blog posts:

1. Scouting for and retaining talent

At the heart of every engineering enterprise is a fantastic and innovative product, but success at scaling up is also down to the range of skilled and passionate people who are part of the team along the way.

  • Invest time in recruiting the right people. Find a workforce of talented individuals who share the same vision as you and will you reap the benefits in the long run. Poppy Gustafsson says, “the core of what Darktrace has is a really talented engineer that built a really great product, and you need that talent to create a good enterprise”.
  • Your corporate culture. Identify what it is and build it into an induction process to ensure this culture has a strong presence throughout your organisation at all levels. Instilling this culture from the very beginning will work to retain your employees, which in turn will help your company go from strength to strength as you keep growing.
  • Reward your staff.  Whether it’s a promotion or a financial incentive, make it apparent what this person has done to deserve it because it will inspire people and give them something to aim for. Value and listen to the opinions of employees at all levels, as having a current of fresh ideas and perspectives from other parts of the organisation may provide you with some surprisingly good strategies.


The panellists discuss the top barriers to scaling up.

2. Leadership skills 

Leading an organisation of 1000 requires a completely different set of skills compared to leading an organisation of 10, which is why you need to build on your leadership skills to keep the morale and momentum of your organisation going.

  • Be clear and concise with your communications - this is key for it to effectively reach all employees in your organisation. The more people you have to communicate to, the more likely things can be misinterpreted if you’re not careful. Not being able to share your vision in a succinct way is essentially the same as keeping everyone out of the loop. You may even end up in a situation where progress is stalled, as a result of something that could have been avoided.
  • Decide how you’re going to celebrate success. When you’re a small organisation it may be fitting to set company valuation targets as your goals, but when you’re a much larger organisation it won’t matter as much to your employees. Your ways of measuring success and the way you communicate what you’re trying to achieve are very important as you grow. Whether it’s aiming to win an award or getting critical acclaim from a renowned figure – it needs to be something that all your employees feel like they’ve contributed to.
  • Having empathy with your employees. Emotional intelligence is a vital trait in a leader.  It is important to remember that the life and soul of your company is entirely down to the people who are a part of it. Without them, you wouldn’t have been able to succeed as well as you have done so far.

And a last bit of advice from Poppy Gustafsson – a good leader is one who can spot and resolve issues in the workflow of their staff. For example, there may be a key person in your organisation who is a bit of a jack of all trades, who is constantly running around sorting all the issues out. While they are a very valuable employee, this represents a single point of failure should this person ever decide to leave. However, if you turn this person’s knowledge into a process within the wider team, it will give you a more efficient and scalable workforce. 

Watch out for our next instalment next week, as we will look at accessing new markets and finding the right finance.


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