Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, offers candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at email@example.com.
Q. We have new customers and new people and now this is the biggest company most of us have ever worked for. Things are great for the business but I’m feeling overwhelmed, as is the team. What should I do?
–CEO trying to keep up
I don’t want to sound harsh, but what you have to do is get used to it! It doesn’t matter if you were 12 people last year and 300 people this year because next year you will want to be 1,000 people.
At one point, eBay stopped taking new customers for months because it didn’t think it could handle providing the service to more people. That was an opportunity lost. Another time a portfolio company told me there was so much demand they were shutting off adding new users. I thought I heard incorrectly. Limiting your growth in this way is not the right answer.
It’s amazing that there’s demand for your product and customer growth. Now you have to figure out how to keep up—and really, you have to focus on how to get ahead. Sometimes that means taking a step back or going slow so you can ultimately go fast. What I mean by that is taking the time right now to figure out a strategy and create a plan.
We all can feel overwhelmed at times. But we can’t stay there. The answer is finding a path to get better. What are the things you can do that will enable your growth and reduce you from feeling overwhelmed?
First, I recommend you figure out where any bottlenecks are, or where things are starting to break and why. Can you fix it with people or with process? You need to make some changes to make things flow.
Scaling is easier than building a company from nothing. It would benefit you to add the right tools. I recommend employing a framework to assess where you are. A framework is set up by industry people who have collaborated and found a way and use a guide. There are many tools and methodologies. We used to tout Kanban, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and Objective and Key Results (OKRs). I personally use Capability Maturity Model (CMM). Salesforce uses is own system called V2MOM. What matters is not which tool you use, but that you implement a process to help you look at the company, see where you are, and determine where you need to be.
What is holding things back? Are you holding anyone up from going as fast as they can go? Have you framed the principles and values enough to so that people know what to do? Are there people who are doing really well and who can do more? One of the answers to enabling growth might be hiring additional people. But remember that recruiting and onboarding adds complexity, so you need to plan for this.
If you don’t have enough money, but you have demand, you may need to fundraise. This will add some short-term pain but will ultimately be a long-term gain.
Also, remember that the right attitude goes a long way. It is necessary to have the team approach everything with an air of wonder. You want to instill a culture in which people ask, “how can I?” I would say, “I’m not asking you to do something impossible, but if everyone had same the same situation and same dollars, how could we ensure nobody else would be better?” Establish expectations to always get better and help people change their mindset. Are people complaining? If so, create a forum to listen, and then task them with fixing it. Having them help identify what is wrong and assigning them a role in solving it will help things get done faster.
When you make progress celebrate it and look around the bend and see what is next. Imagine what will happen the next quarter or next year. With this kind of forward thinking you won’t be dealing with incoming every day. If you anticipate what will come and have a plan, it feels better.
I know you are working hard and feeling stress. But let’s put this in context. Most work is hard. But when you are growing it is also energizing. It is very seldom that you get stasis. It is not often in the life of a successful company that things are “okay” and stay okay. Everything is always changing, and you must always be responding.
The fact is that challenges get harder as you become more successful. The more you grow, the more friction you introduce. Companies that are growing are always surprised to learn that big companies are always grappling with challenges at scale. Of course they are! They need to onboard tons of people and acquire new companies. Even companies that look like giants still have heavy lifting to do. Regardless of size there are always challenges. It’s never easy. But it can be fulfilling and fun.