I remember when we released on our first version of WorkCompass in 2013.
Shortly afterwards we got our first customer, and before long we were up to 15. We had arrived, I thought. We had achieved product/market fit, the holy grail of startups. People were buying it, using it and telling us how much they liked it. The scrambling was over, I thought. It was time to start googling private islands for sale in the Caribbean.
Our first customers were companies we knew, but once we had closed about 15 of them we began to realise that we were quickly exhausting this seam and we had no idea how we were going to get more. We began to realise that we had to ‘Cross the Chasm’ as Geoffrey Moore describes it in his book of the same name.
— NDRC (@NDRC_hq) February 3, 2016
After spending a lot longer than I am willing to admit buying adwords, offering free trials and reading every tech blog under the sun searching for the magic answer, it slowly began to dawn on us that the real challenge was ahead of us and not behind us. Scaling a startup, I now know, is many times harder than achieving product/market fit, and thats not easy.
In his book Traction, Gabriel Weinberg (the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo) outlines 24 ways to scale a tech startup and explains that these arent mutually exclusive but work in combinations of twos or threes. In effect, this means that there are an infinite number of ways that could work, but there are only a FEW ways that will work. This is the monstrous challenge for scaling startups, figuring out what way will work for your business and doing it with limited time and with very limited resources.
Thats why I think initiatives like the Newstalk SaaS BootCamp run by the Dublin Commissioner for Startups and the NDRC are so important. They allow scaling companies to learn from those who have achieved scale and from each other and figure out how they too can achieve scale very quickly. If you get this phase right you can knock years off how long it takes to get to 10M annual recurring revenue.
If you get it wrong you might not survive at all.
And thats why this kind of deep domain expertise is invaluable.
Denis Coleman is the CEO of WorkCompass.