Philip Green is an experienced Chief Financial Officer with a demonstrated history of scaling companies. From Amazon, Groupon and Deliveroo, his LinkedIn profile reads like a greatest hits of tech success stories.

We were delighted to connect him to our partner, award-winning POS provider, Epos Now in December 2020. With his extensive scale-up experience, Phil is helping write the next chapter of their growth story, guiding the organisation toward a successful 2022 IPO.

Philip Green

As a trusted tech investor, CFO and NED for a portfolio of innovative start-ups, Phil was kind enough to share his insight into some common scale-up issues. Some of these challenges have evolved or become even more pronounced in the wake of Covid-19.

What are the most common scale-up problems faced by start-ups? How’s best to solve them?

Firstly, I’d say access to capital is always one of the biggest challenges and this can be a real distraction from your core mission. And yet, the scaling-up period is rife with issues beyond the immediate financial ones.

Growing the team requires access to the right talent. During the start-up period it pays to have people with a really broad scope of skills. As the needs of the business change you find you need more specialist skills in the team. Some people can scale with it- some people can’t – on these occasions the individuals’ growth curve is slower than the companies.

When I speak to my early stage companies, I find mistakes around hiring talent fall into two parts; adding the wrong people and adding people at the wrong time. This can easily imbalance an organisation which can be really detrimental in terms of culture.

If an organisation starts layering and people are being moved around the business, or shifted into more specialist roles they can feel devalued. It’s the same from the other perspective and can be equally as damaging introducing a senior leader with no grasp of your culture. It’s a delicate time for any business.

It’s critical to ensure you’re still effectively communicating your vision and mission as the team grows so you don’t lose sight of what you’re aiming for. This gets harder to manage as the team gets bigger, making it all the more important to formalise the communication process.

In the founding stages, sharing your vision might look like a chat around a desk. That becomes infeasible fairly quickly. Teams exceeding a hundred people seems to be the point at which culture and communication risk being diluted.

 

You’re a NED for a number of tech businesses, how did these businesses respond to the challenges faced in COVID-19?

Without exception, they’ve all done brilliant well. They all quickly adapted to crisis mode which ensured they acted quickly and effectively. Crisis is different to panic – it’s organised panic. This allowed the leadership teams to establish the threats, the likelihood of different outcomes and define the underlying uncertainties and what action could be taken.

Speed is everything in times of crisis. You need to act quickly to put processes in place before the worst has happened. If these foreseen challenges arise, the business can then pull certain levers to alleviate issues and limit the damage.

All the businesses I work with responded differently to COVID-19 but they had one thing in common – common sense leadership. Resource and cash flow management is critical. These leaders knew that and acted accordingly.

For example, one of the businesses assessed their position and made the difficult decision to let their teams go. Another held on to their people as long as it made sense to, and made full use of the furlough scheme. And another was fortunate enough to take advantage of the Government’s Future Fund.

I’m also incredibly proud of how these businesses leveraged change, displaying real opportunism in the face of adversity. I was particularly worried about one organisation whose whole premise is built on human interaction at places where people gather, such as museum exhibitions. With these attractions closed, they pivoted to offer a virtual product. They’ll now come out of the other side of this stronger than they would have without the pandemic having built additional revenue streams.

How important is it to build the right team early on in a business?

Building the right team is important no matter what stage your business is at because you’re always building teams. Whether you have 5 people or 500, an organisation is made up of different teams who deliver certain elements to support business objectives.

It’s not a static thing. What you need from your team will change as your business grows. A person who was key to your success in your founding stages may not be the right person during scale-up. It’s important to remember organisations change just as much as people do – and in fast-growth businesses, organisations can outgrow their teams very quickly.

How do you ensure you always have the best people in your organisation? I believe you have to remain diligent. Lots of businesses make the mistake of hiring for skills alone when you also have to consider behaviours. Teams falter when the leaders don’t put enough energy into culture. My advice to them is to stop and reflect on whether their existing teams are best placed for success? Are they supported and engaged? Your people define your organisation and build your culture. It’s hard to know if you’re making good decisions if you aren’t measuring your outcomes.

 

Huge thank you to Phil for sharing his insight examining scale-up challenges in tech; challenges we’re sure many of our partners can relate to! If you’d like help finding the right people at the right time, that’s what we do! Our specialist head hunters can help you build effective problem-solving teams who drive business growth. Get in touch!

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