Gabriela Hersham is the CEO and founder of workspace accelerator Huckletree. Photo credit: Huckletree
Someone asked me recently what the last five years of growing my startup Huckletree, the workspace accelerator, has taught me. The answer? Everything and also nothing because there’s no exact science or one size-fits-all route to making it.
For me, it felt fast. What began as gut instinct about the future of co-working led to initial thoughts on a flight home from New York to London and fast turned into real-world meetings, pitches, promises, a product, a signed lease and then cash in the bank – all within 12 months.
The elephant in the room is scale. The ultimate marker of growth and the well-known measure of speed, profit and relative success. I know firsthand that it’s one thing having the killer idea – it’s another altogether to take that idea and grow it into a viable, profitable business.
No one teaches you what to do next. But having worked alongside ambitious entrepreneurs who have succeeded in turning their renegade ideas into a profitable reality and building a company of our own, here’s what I’ve learned.
(1) Hire ambitiously
We all know that talent drives business but I’ve found the secret tip is to hire ambitiously and find senior leads who are junior CXOs-in-the-making. Not only are they experts in their own function or craft but they increase the total emotional intelligence and resilience of your company, which is the missing ingredient between unsuccessful and successful scaleups. More often than not they tend to be natural relationship-driven people too and they’ll help to shape the potential of who you can be as a founder.
(2) Book curiosity into your calendar
Set time aside to ask questions and foster your own curiosity. The internet can answer most things – I’ve googled many founder questions myself – but it can’t expose your blindspots. Invest in coaches, external advisors or founders at the stage ahead of you that help you see challenges differently. Ask for reality checks and use it as your weekly dose of accountability.
From my experience, the most successful scaleups are those that have dedicated time to being curious about where the market is moving ten-plus years out. Contemplating the next decade of innovation requires you to stop, research, imagine and have an opinion on what’s coming. My team have started to use this in their weekly meetings, asking of each other “What are you curious about today” and “How are you being renegade this week?”
(3) Where’s the playbook?
I love a process document. Spreadsheets, playbooks, scripts, FAQs – these how to guides are crucial for empowering your teams. The hardest transition for scaleups is going from a fast, scrappy and maverick mentality towards a more refined way. It doesn’t mean you’re spoonfeeding smart people – it’s about stability and even the most courageous innovators need a good foundation to be able to lean on.
(4) Have advocates from day one
Set yourself up for future wins by surrounding yourself with people who completely buy into why you do what you do. Some of our first members are now our ambassadors, alumni and advisors. They’re teaching us things all the time.
Wherever possible, make time to meet with your advocates in person. Perhaps it’s sharing contacts or best practice advice, perhaps it’s just an opportunity to talk about balancing growing a business and family simultaneously.
It sounds simple but if you have that mentality from the start, the scale stage will feel less lonely and insurmountable.
(5) The idea comes first
Finally, don’t forget where you began. As founders, we’re constantly treading the fine line between a genuinely groundbreaking and meaningful new idea and making it financially viable. It’s easy to become clouded by numbers, especially when navigating the tricky process of scaling up. But in my experience, that’s when great ideas become average, or try and be too many things to too many people for the sake of turning a profit.
My advice is to place ideas first, revenue second.
The more we surround ourselves with savvy, curious and ambitious boundary breakers, the more we all learn and the faster my team and the teams around us evolve. It’s only when we stop living in a learning environment that we become uninspired. Hold tight to that initial spark of excitement and inspiration and the rest will follow.