I've been a guest on a few podcasts recently and one of the things that keeps coming up are the changes a company goes through when growing from 10 to 20 people — which is exactly what happened at Podia during 2019 (well, 9 to 19 people to be exact 😉 ).
I’d like to share a few of the things that happened during this time and what you can expect if you’re experiencing similar growth.
You're going to need to give things up
Throughout my career as an entrepreneur, I've gotten my hands dirty in every area of the business: product, marketing, support, community, success, and so on, but at 19 people, I just haven't had the time to be everywhere at all times.
I have to pick and choose what I do and what I don't do. I've chosen to continue to lead product, but I've given up almost all of my responsibilities in regard to marketing and support.
Part of that change is due to the fact that we've hired great people to fill those roles, including a Chief Marketing Officer who runs our 7-person marketing team and a Lead Support person who runs our 4-person support team.
At our size, it just makes sense for me to give up control over things that I can't spend a lot of time on — such as marketing and support — and give those responsibilities to people who are focused on doing them and doing them well.
Management is a necessity
When we were under 9 people, we skated by for quite some time with no real managers. In fact for a long time, it was just me running all departments, but as we began to grow, that broke down quickly.
Our individual departments got bigger. There were questions that needed answers more quickly. New hiring responsibilities. Individuals on a team needed a leader to help guide them. Strategy needed to be set for each department.
We needed to organize. We needed a leader to run the various departments. Things were breaking down without them. Who is responsible? Who owns the success here? Who owns the failure?
At 9 people, everyone could manage themselves and their own projects without stepping on anyone's toes, but as the product got bigger and as we got more customers, we needed to better coordinate across the company and the various departments.
We now have three managers (marketing, support, and development) who each run their own teams and their own 1:1s and are responsible for their “area” of the company.
We've always been an extremely productive company, but adding a management layer has allowed us to continue to be extremely productive as we've grown. A lot of companies get bogged down as they grow, but we haven't.
Company policies are a necessity
We've gone from informal, never written down HR policies to a dozen thoughtfully crafted, Podia-specific policies we now post in our new company wiki.
This lets everyone in the company be on the same page about how we do things from compensation philosophy to what kind of side projects are acceptable.
Policies written too early often won't match the vibe of the company you're trying to build, so waiting until things "break" is a great forcing function to know what's important and what isn't. I'm really happy we waited until we passed ten people before writing all of these down, but I'm glad we didn't wait any longer than that.
Knowledge sharing is harder
With more people working at Podia, it's harder to keep everyone up-to-date with everything that's going on.
We continue to have our Monday meeting that gives almost everyone a chance to talk about what they're working on for the week, but it's definitely more difficult for everyone to have a deep understanding of all that's happening. It's even difficult for me at times as the CEO.
It's also more difficult for individual departments as they grow. We now have 6 product developers — if you include our CTO — and they're often working on different projects. It's common that all product developers won't know every part of our codebase as well as they might have when our team was only two or three people.
Continuing to learn and grow is key
As a founder — and as a company — you need to continue to learn and grow every day. The skills you had at ten people are not going to be the same skills you need at twenty people.
You'll need to learn, listen, read, and adapt to the new situations that are thrown your way or else you're going to be behind.
I've been thankful to have a CEO coach this year who has helped me talk through lots of different situations we've had as a company throughout the past nine months, but if you can't afford a CEO coach, find CEOs who are at your stage or one or two stages above you and talk to them about how they got to where they are and what advice they can give you as a founder.
Learning shouldn't stop when you graduate (or don't graduate) college. You need to continue to exercise your brain and take in as much information as you can as your company continues to grow.
More people challenges
As you grow from 9 to 19 people as we did, you'll find that there are new people challenges. I think it's mostly because there are just more people on the team with different personalities, needs, and wants, but it's also because there's a new guard vs. an old guard mentality that you need to work through.
The early folks will always be the early folks, and you need to make sure you're integrating the new people as best you can.
Along with that, more people = more room for things to go wrong. You have to keep track of everyone's likes, dislikes, how they prefer to communicate, what's the best tone to take with them, and many other things.
People will continue to be the hardest part of the job for any CEO, but it definitely only gets harder as you grow.
That's why having great managers is so key when you grow. See above.
Plan, plan, plan
Lastly, with a growing team, it’s important to keep everyone on the same page, which can be accomplished by being really thorough with your company's plans. Whether that's the broader company strategy, the product strategy, the marketing strategy, or whatever, it's important to lay things out in a clear and concise way so that everyone understands what's happening.
While you could get away with not writing down a lot things when you were small, you need a "source of truth" for everyone to be able to refer to as you grow. You won't be able to have individual conversations with everyone as you grow, so having a really well-thought-out plan can do the talking for you.