Navigating Growth: The Lessons 5 Fast-Growing Companies Learned as They Scaled

by Janey Zitomer
November 13, 2019

Whether it’s learning how to communicate among distributed team members or transitioning to a new coding language, managers and team leaders face a number of growing pains as a company scales. 

We checked in with five NYC businesses that have first-hand experience with such transitions to find out how they have eased their figurative muscle aches and turned their growth spurts into slam dunks. Many of their solutions came down to preemptive problem-solving. 


 

GrubHub
Grubhub

When you’re operating the mechanics behind connecting local takeout restaurants to hundreds or even thousands of customers, a shared Google doc might suffice. When your customer base spans over 2,700 cities, it’s time to reevaluate your documentation methods...especially when those customers are hungry.

Jeff Valeo, senior director of site reliability engineering at Grubhub, shared the company’s early pain points and how they've set themselves up for success since. 

 

What's an example of a growing pain you experienced as the company scaled? 

When engineering is only a few dozen people, it’s easy to have imperfect tools and unfinished documentation. It’s fairly simple to answer questions as they come and knowledge is easy to dissipate. As the organization grows, that method quickly breaks down and an emphasis on accessible tools and great documentation is required. It’s the only way teams can handle the scaling happening around them without having to scale themselves.

As the organization grows [...] an emphasis on accessible tools and great documentation is required.’’ 

 

What were the most important lessons learned during that period of scale?

Starting with these priorities early on paid dividends later. Building an application programming infrastructure (API) to serve data that other teams need is great. But without documentation, you build it and they will come; with lots of questions that you may not be able to handle.

AlphaSights team
AlphaSights

AlphaSights connects professionals in consulting, investment funding and private equity with experts so that they have access to the very best knowledge out there; a task that is neither small nor stagnant.

To keep up with business trends and stay consistent across countries, Vice President of Engineering Kevin Lester told us he makes sure that emphasis on culture is always No. 1. 

 

What’s an example of a growing pain you experienced as the company scaled? 

As AlphaSights has grown and scaled, its international footprint has expanded to include offices in eight different countries and seven different time zones. Scaling a team that can adapt our systems to the unique needs of each geography while remaining responsive to our growing user base was quite a challenge.

Careful roadmap management, aggressive hiring and focused roles (like having support engineers co-located in each market) were crucial to addressing scaling challenges.

Disconnected businesses can breed bad habits...’’

 

What were the most important lessons learned during that period of scale?

The team that we built as we have scaled is incredibly diverse. We have engineers across more than a dozen nationalities and five time zones, as well as fluency in over six languages.

From past experience, we’ve learned that growing without prioritizing our culture can erode part of what makes our organization great. As such, we ensure that the entire company feels connected as we scale, making hiring decisions based on merit and values. We’ve put mechanisms in place to ensure cohesion, such as establishing at least two working hours of overlap between all engineers so that we can have regular all-hands meetings. We also invite remote engineers to our offices each quarter and hold an annual offsite for the global team to connect, work through challenges and discuss our future. Disconnected businesses can breed bad habits, so we’ve made maintaining a cohesive team a core value.

 

Latch employees
latch

When one door closes, another one opens. Literally, that is, for VP of Firmware Engineering Deepthi Gandhi.

Latch is a fully integrated software system that provides smart access to apartment building doors via smartphones. Gandhi shared how rapid growth has shifted her role at the company and provided valuable learning lessons. 

 

What's an example of a growing pain you experienced as the company scaled? 

As the company scaled, we had to make sure that our processes kept up. It is important to recognize that a single process cannot be created and installed forever. We have worked continuously to evolve and ensure that our processes serve their intended purposes.

In addition, several of us joined the company at the beginning. As the company scaled and as I reinvented myself in a leadership role, it was very important for me to develop and grow the people on my team.  

When we hire the right people for the job and invest in them wholeheartedly, it pays off.’’ 

 

What were the most important lessons learned during that period of scale?

It is people first, always. When we hire the right people for the job and invest in them wholeheartedly, it pays off. Another personal lesson for me is how immensely important a company’s core values are. Latch’s core values serve as a guiding light for everything from product decisions to functional designs. These values serve as a framework to model my everyday work. I think it is a powerful tool for a company to align on decisions and actions.

 

Trustpilot team
trustpilot

Working to grow a small company is a good reminder that change is the only constant in life. This is a lesson that Katie Ditano, senior director of North American sales at Trustpilot, has learned quickly.

Ditano shares how her team prevails through necessary teachable moments to focus on what’s ahead so that the community-driven review platform can best serve its customers. 

 

What’s an example of a growing pain you experienced as the company scaled?

Growing pains happen pretty regularly in a fast-growing company. So having a “not-if-but-when” mentality has helped a lot. I’ve learned that something that may not have worked a few years ago may be exactly what we need to accomplish goals now.

While this is a simple and broad example, being open to rethinking “current state” is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned.

Something that may not have worked a few years ago may be exactly what we need to accomplish goals now.’’

 

What were the most important lessons learned during that period of scale?

Listen, ask questions and be open. We are continuing to grow every day.

 

Equilend team
equilend

When Wikipedia was first introduced online, Encyclopedia Britannica owners didn’t run to the living room to throw away their comprehensive (and expensive) possessions. Change is hard, and it always takes time to adapt.

We recently spoke to Paul Nigrelli, chief financial officer of EquiLend, a standardized and centralized global platform for trading and post-trade services. He shared how his team has faced transitions head-on and why they’re better for it.  

 

What's an example of a growing pain you experienced as the company scaled? 

Our biggest growing pain was overcoming “the old way” of doing things. A good example was our move from Waterfall to Agile, which seems silly now. It was a huge culture shift for us at the time. Senior business analysts and engineers didn’t understand the need. Why change something that works? Because the company had plans for multiple new products, we couldn’t afford to run linearly. We needed to adapt to run multidimensionally and have the ability to stop, start or switch direction as needed based on client feedback. 

We spent time with the product development teams, client teams and management team so everyone understood what we were doing and that we were going to succeed or fail together. It wasn’t one person or one team’s responsibility. It was on all of us.

As a company grows, you must carve out subject matter experts...’’

 

What were the most important lessons learned during that period of scale?

One of the most important lessons we learned was that what worked as a 25-person company was not going to work at a 75- or 100-person company. As a 25-person company, we had many generalists who coded, drafted workflow requirements and handled IT infrastructure in one job function. That works when firms have one product but won’t scale when they have three or five or 10.

As a company grows, you must carve out subject matter experts and give them the freedom to focus and dive deep. That means you sometimes need to let go and expand if necessary.

 

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