Could your startup founder mindset be holding you back from scaling your company successfully?


Some of the very same qualities that helped you succeed as a startup founder are likely to hold you back as you plan to scale up your company.

In other words: what got you here won't get you there.

Working with entrepreneur clients and growing a service business myself here at Finling, I've had the privilege to learn and observe some of these founder mindset lessons firsthand.

Here are 5 mindset shifts you need to make to transition from a startup founder to a scaleup founder. 

Bring out the best in your people

Startup founders have astonishing energy and grit, and often work massively long hours and make personal sacrifices in order to get the business off the ground.

But when you start to scale and hire team members, you can’t expect them to put their own lives on hold and work themselves to the bone for your idea, your “baby”. 

In order to scale sustainably, you must concentrate on creating a supportive and pleasant working experience for your team from the get-go, so that being a good employer becomes part of your company culture. As Richard Branson says: "If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the customers" - and therefore, your business. 

Your job as a founder is to bring out the best in your people, not demand total devotion.

Communicate the vision...again and again

You're the founder, so you know the business mission and vision inside out; they are your goals, your future and your passion.

As you grow, you may come to assume that everyone else shares your mission, vision and passion, but if you don’t explain it regularly, or it gets a bit fuzzy around the edges, you can lose buy-in and end up with something that is not very distinctive. 

Here’s my absolute top tip – hire a brilliant marketing consultant, as we did recently (thank you, Imogen Roy!)  They can help you to sharpen up your message and explain your vision in a really compelling way so that it sticks.  

And then just keep on communicating it – with staff, with clients and with prospects. To scale successfully, your main role as the founder is to deliver on the business vision, and that means ensuring everyone else in the organisation gets behind it.

Identify your zone of genius, and hire people to work in theirs

If you had the gumption and creativity to start your own business, then you're likely to be someone pretty talented. And your startup has flourished precisely because you applied those talents so well.

And since you're the expert, you don’t really believe that anyone else can be as talented as you, so you hold on to all the important (and exciting, interesting and creative) roles as your company grows.

But here’s the trap - how can your company scale if you're the bottleneck?

One of the best bits of advice I ever received was this: deliberately set out to hire people who are better than you.  And then trust them, delegate to them, and watch the amazing impact they have on growth. When people are empowered to work in their zone of genius, they really commit to the future of the business.

Your new zone of genius is something only you can do - deliver the vision. 

Systemise for success

Every entrepreneurial personality has an extraordinary need for control, because control over the present is how you organise to deliver the dream of the future. 

As a founder, you probably designed every bit of your service or product yourself. You know exactly how it works and you’re obsessed with providing excellent service. 

This preciousness can make it very hard to delegate and can lead to a vicious cycle of not delegating, then being overworked yourself whilst others around you are not busy enough.  If you spend your precious founder hours doing someone else's job instead of working to grow the business itself, you will not scale. 

How to delegate with confidence? Train, train, and then train some more.  Systematise everything that you can and write up full procedure notes for every process in your business - however simple or intuitive it appears to you.  Then deliberately and systematically hand overwork with clear guidelines.

This is the secret to scaling: making your business systems-dependent rather than people-dependent. Want more advice on scaling? Read ‘The Do’s and Don’ts of Scaling Your Company.’

Design a financial system to scale

As a startup, you achieved financial control by doing your own bookkeeping and making every payment out of the bank account yourself.

But now there are dozens, maybe hundreds of transactions a day.  You're swamped, tired and haven't got time for the real strategic work.  

The distinction between a startup founder and a scaleup founder is in recognising the difference between doing the financial work and being in control of it. 

For example, a good bookkeeping service can take away the grind of data processing, especially if technology is used properly (the doing).  But you retain control by getting up to date management reports quickly after the month-end, and on a daily basis for things like sales and cash (the control), and implementing a range of other checks and controls.

Outsourcing the day-to-day tasks and ensuring you get timely and accurate management reports will enable you to take a more proactive, future-facing role so you can scale successfully.

The entrepreneur's journey is one of constant change and evolution, which is why Finling was created to support entrepreneurs' unique needs and timelines. If you want to have a well-resourced, agile and fully skilled finance team on your side, take a look at Finling for Entrepreneurs or get in touch

Jennifer Denning