Around 20% of startups in the US fail within a year. Half won’t be around in five years, and nearly two-thirds (65%) fail within a decade.
It’s easy to look at those figures and lose faith. Success stories that tell of founders growing from a garage to a billion-dollar tech giant could be considered the stuff of legend.
But here’s the thing: those companies do exist, especially in the tech industry. Even amid global uncertainty in an ultra-competitive environment, there’s room for great ideas to become runaway successes. And it’s not down to luck.
The evidence suggests that startups fail to scale not due to bad ideas but rather bad planning.
Why do tech providers fail to scale? Opinions from industry spectators
- Deloitte points to productivity problems. Looking at how the tech industry is dealing with macroeconomic headwinds in 2023, the firm found that C-level execs “may feel enormous pressure to reduce their costs and improve profitability.”
- Investopedia says startups tend to run out of steam. They identified a lack of research, poor budget management, market misalignment and the founder’s limitations in managing a company as the main culprits.
- Exploding Topics agrees – and backs it up with data. Their meta-analysis found 34% of companies suffer from poor product-market fit, 22% from bad marketing and 18% from team and HR issues.
Deloitte’s research is especially relevant for tech providers. The other sources we cited looked at “small businesses” generally (i.e. those with <500 employees), but Deloitte dived into the tech industry.
They came up with many strategic questions for tech company C-Suites. Here are the first two:
- What steps are we taking to evaluate and improve our tech company’s operating models and business processes?
- How can we foster greater productivity, despite potential resource constraints?
By leading their findings with these productivity improvement questions, Deloitte highlights an all-too-common barrier to scaling up.
That is that as companies start to expand, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the same level of efficiency and productivity as in the early days.
Four signs your tech company is ready to scale
Founders and entrepreneurs are always eager to scale. It’s not an easy feat – and it can end in failure – but when conditions are ripe, the growth is exhilarating.
Scaling signals aren’t universal, so there’s no benchmark that triggers the acceleration. However, there are common signs that suggest a tech company can think about spreading its wings and implementing a growth strategy.
1. Consistent demand
If you’re consistently attracting new customers, experiencing increased usage or even turning away business that doesn’t align with growth goals, it’s a clear sign that there’s greater demand for your offering than you can currently service. Cash flow trends are good indicators of increased demand; when revenue grows faster than costs, it could be a sign that you’re ready to expand.
2. Skilled and dependable team
Good people who can adapt to changing circumstances and continually improve the company’s offering are crucial for scaling. Importantly, your team must be aligned with the company’s growth vision and feel supported. Scaling too fast can lead to burnout. Just as leaders depend on their team to perform above expectations, teams depend on leaders to provide the support they need to maintain the pace.
3. Well-oiled processes
Scalability should be built into your operations, enabling you to invest in growth and handle increased volume without compromising quality. Efficiency is evident in consistent output, consistent quality and consistent productivity improvement. It means no unexpected bottlenecks and workflow optimizations that can be replicated and standardized as you expand.
4. Scalable infrastructure
Your company’s business system technology, servers, databases and employee productivity tracking software should be equipped to handle increased demand without compromising performance. This goes for data processing software, IT equipment, customer support systems, and project management solutions.
Are productivity gaps holding you back?
Imagine a small tear in the knee of your favorite jeans. It’s hardly noticeable at first, just a little scrape.
But then you wash the jeans, pull them on and start walking. Gradually, as the strain increases, that small tear grows until your knee is poking through for all the world to see.
In essence, this is what Deloitte means when they say tech company C-Suites are responding to pressure by “conducting strategic reviews of talent; modernizing their tech infrastructure;…and transforming operating models.”
As the company strains against economic headwinds and increasing demands, small operational cracks become glaring productivity gaps. Processes fall apart. Good people burn out.
Is your tech company ready to scale?
The trouble is that many growing companies don’t see productivity problems, per se. They see costs rising and revenue stagnating. They see people quiet quitting or resigning. They see lower-than-expected valuations in M&A discussions.
They feel the cash flow constraints preventing them from scaling. Still, they don’t have the analytical capabilities to find the cause of these issues.
If you’re reading this and starting to feel the wind on your knee (metaphorically speaking), you’re not alone. Productivity gaps are among the most prevalent, pernicious and persistent challenges for tech providers today.
So before implementing strategies to scale up, it’s essential to look at your knees – in other words, evaluate whether productivity improvement opportunities exist in your organization. By proactively identifying and addressing these roadblocks, you can clear the road for successful expansion.
How do I prepare to scale up?
The road to success is paved with more than just good intentions and grit. Although we hear stories of ‘hustle culture’ and ‘grind’, the reality is that scaling becomes more about grey matter than muscle. A clear strategy built on good data analytics is essential.
Define your growth objectives
Success looks different for every tech company. The speed, scope and style of your scale-up will be defined by many variables unique to your company and market, so the first step is to determine what scaling success looks like for your company.
You can do this on three levels:
- High-level organizational goals like better customer experiences, efficient operations or environmental sustainability
- Mid-level milestones to track your progress towards these aspirational goals, for example, 10% customer retention improvement year-on-year or 30% employee productivity improvement a year after transitioning to full remote working
- Operational key performance indicators (KPIs) that are measurable and actionable, such as weekly net promoter scores, fewer overtime hours or less paper used in offices
Building this graduated measurement system creates accountability and provides transparency between initiatives like employee productivity tracking and long-term growth.
Establish scalable processes and systems
Processes and systems that work in single-market or low-volume environments may not withstand the stress of scaling up. Evaluate your existing workflows and identify areas that may become bottlenecks as your company grows.
Of course, this is often easier said than done. The workflows might look optimized from the outside, while productivity gaps lurk in the minutiae of day-to-day operations.
In our experience as productivity improvement partners for tech providers, proper evaluation requires a Productivity Audit. This is a systematic analysis of data from time tracking software to identify hidden inefficiencies, giving you insights you can use to craft a realistic roadmap.
Invest in productivity tracking technology
Scaling up often means upgrading or investing in new technologies to support increased data volumes and enable workflow optimizations.
As a general rule, cloud-based solutions allow for the flexibility you need to adapt to changing needs.
But most platforms are cloud-based nowadays. So which technology is a good investment, and which is just a shiny new toy?
This comes back to the inefficiencies identified in your Productivity Audit. The right investment for your company is the one that enables your workforce to spend more time on value-adding tasks. First you need to know what they’re working on.
Employee productivity tracking software provides this level of granular data, giving tech company leaders more oversight of their workforce and the ability to spot issues like bottlenecks and burnout before they arise.
Conduct market research
If product-market fit and customer misalignment are recurring problems, then one part of the growth equation is market research.
You may know your current market inside and out. But as the customer base expands and diversifies, it’s crucial to gather customer insights so you can provide tailored customer experiences.
Empathy builds loyalty. This goes for your customers and workforce alike; while employee productivity tracking tools help you communicate on your employees’ terms, market insights help you gather a loyal audience and grow your customer base.
Foster a culture of continuous improvement
Innovation doesn’t always mean disruption. It can also mean streamlining internal processes, eliminating waste and automating time-consuming tasks.
As a tech company leader, you must empower employees to contribute to the company’s growth. By embracing new ideas and rewarding proactive problem-solving, you’re cultivating a culture of working smarter, not harder.
Uncovering productivity gaps with an audit
Imagine: you’re the CEO of a tech company that has grown fast in a relatively short period. Your team is working tirelessly to meet deadlines and deliver quality services.
However, despite your best efforts and this increased fervor, revenue is falling short of expectations. You’re running out of cash to scale.
This is exactly the situation Vulpine Interactive was in before undertaking a Productivity Audit. Reporting – seemingly a minor task in Vulpine’s growing project portfolio – took 2.5x longer to complete than expected. This extra time ate profit margins, but the team couldn’t recognize the issue until they started tracking productivity metrics.
Actionable insight to close productivity gaps
A Productivity Audit gathers data on the inner workings of your company, revealing the hidden inefficiencies hindering growth. It goes beyond anomalous errors and gut feelings, relying on concrete evidence to pinpoint areas where productivity improvement opportunities exist.
By analyzing employee engagement, downtime minutes, overwork hours, app and website usage and other metrics relevant to your company’s challenges, a Productivity Audit reveals patterns and trends that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Vulpine Interactive is an example of spotting a hidden mistake. For SmartSites, the situation was reversed.
SmartSites uncovered an opportunity to redistribute website development tasks to people who were more efficient in certain areas, for example, coders who are stronger in certain languages. The result was a 35% increase in efficiency across the project lifecycle and 80 hours saved when coding new sites.
One of the key benefits of a Productivity Audit is that it provides an unbiased and data-driven perspective. Companies like SmartSites and Vulpine Interactive benefited in entirely different ways from the same analytical process.
The bottom line: Scaling isn’t possible until you close productivity gaps
As a tech company nears the inflection point where they’re ready to invest in scaling up, productivity improvement must be a priority. Closing these gaps early prevents a large, profit-guzzling crack from hindering your ability to scale.
It’s not impossible to solve these problems later. But it is more time-consuming and expensive – not to mention employees are more likely to be burnt out by the time you notice the issues.
Time Doctor worked closely with tech providers to develop a Productivity Audit method that identifies hidden issues quickly and efficiently. Using tailored insights from a two-week audit process, our clients have been able to prioritize and address productivity gaps.
From there, Time Doctor provides oversight to monitor the resulting productivity improvement initiatives and prevent employees from burning out – all things which are crucial to continued success during and after scaling up.
By optimizing productivity, streamlining processes and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, you position your company for sustainable growth in a highly competitive industry.
Ready to set the stage for scaling?
Request a free Productivity Audit to uncover the hidden productivity gaps holding your company back from success. We’ll work with you to implement our non-invasive and secure employee productivity tracking software and compile tailored insights in just two weeks.
Andy is a technology & marketing leader who has delivered award-winning and world-first experiences.