Don’t Grow Your Startup Too Quickly

By Kartick Vaddadi

Kartick Vaddadi

… because too many things will break:

  • You’ll end up hiring second-tier people because of a pressure to do things quickly.
  • You’ll over-pay because the founder is too busy to negotiate, and employees don’t have as much of an incentive since it’s not their money.
  • Team coordination and communication can break down, because everything is happening too fast and people don’t have time to identify problems, come up with solutions, and settle into patterns.
  • You won’t be able to deal effectively with poor performers, because you have too many other things going on for this to rise to the top of the priority list.
  • Different people within the company will have discrepant working styles, because newcomers haven’t had a chance to acclimatise to the company style (and to some extent vice-versa).
  • In a startup, everyone is working at one level higher than they were before. Entry-level engineers may be making decisions on architecture or UX. People may be leading teams for the first time. Or taking on new roles like UX design. All this requires time and space to acclimitise. When you go to a mountain resort like Leh, you have to acclimitise for a day before you can cope with the thin air. The same thing happens in a startup, but at a mental level. When I started my startup, I was a bad tech lead, project manager and people manager. Now I’m good at all three, but it took me time to get there. Absent that time, people won’t work effectively. And any of these can cause the startup to fail.
  • Startups are stressful, and have an emotional cost. If you dial up the stress, you may not be able to handle it. I’ve seen people stop thinking and work mechanically. I have seen shouting and abuse in the office, and more. We can’t be sensible or productive under too much stress. We fall apart.
  • You’ll have terrible code quality, so six months down the line, work will grind to a halt.
  • You’ll have too high a burn rate, and may be unable to pay salaries. It’s much better to few people working consistently for a few years than to hire too many, have them leave because of unpaid salaries, then get funding, hire a far bigger team, and have them leave again a year down the line. You can’t get much done under these circumstances.
  • A desire for quick growth may make you start a second product before the first one has achieved product-market fit and the company has free cash flow. Startups already have more things demanding their attention than they have attention, and adding a second child when you can’t take care of the first one is a recipe for failure.
  • You’ll end up spending money inefficiently like hiring an external agency to design a marketing web site for an astronomical fee of ₹6 lakh, despite having in-house engineers, designers and marketers.

None of these are hypothetical. I’ve seen all of them first-hand at a startup I advise.

In summary, trying to force growth will cause too many things to break. Startups are hard enough, because there are too many things that have to go right for a startup to work, and any one of these going wrong is enough to kill it. When you create more problems (the ones above), and that too so many of them at once, on top of the myriad problems startups intrinsically face, failure is ever likelier. You can’t fight every battle at once.

So, get off the rocketship before you fall to the earth and die. Grow at a natural pace.