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4 strategies to ensure hyper-growth doesn’t kill your culture

1,000% growth in an eight-month period puts a strain on company culture

4 strategies to ensure hyper-growth doesn’t kill your culture
Dr Alex Young
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Dr Alex Young

Founder & CEO, Virti

Alex is an NHS trauma and orthopaedic surgeon by training. Passionate about improving human performance, he built and sold his first company Alex is an NHS trauma and orthopaedic surgeon by training. Passionate about improving human performance, he built and sold his first company whilst at university, before boot-strapping and scaling another while still training in the NHS. Virti develop immersive training tools to improve human performance in organisations around the globe. They have won a wealth of awards including being named one of Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies of 2021.

Every startup aspires to scale, but doing so quickly will inevitably impact your team dynamic. When a startup of ten suddenly becomes a team of fifty, everything shifts: from the way you communicate with employees, to the way you hire, train, and retain.

In order to ensure rapid growth doesn’t come at the cost of culture, founders must find effective ways to ensure everyone on the team is ready for the hyper-growth ride.  

My startup, Virti, grew by 1,000% in an eight-month period last year. It wasn’t easy, but here are the four strategies I implemented to keep our culture intact as we scaled. 

Don’t outsource success

When you’re growing quickly, I know it can be tempting to contract in expertise to help you with particular challenges. Recruiting can take time — and bad hires can be expensive — so using agencies or freelancers for particular skills can feel like a safer bet. 

But in my experience, outsourcing too much work can kill your culture.

Not only do contractors tend to see projects in isolation — therefore lacking vision and long-term investment in your startup’s goals — but the financial, administrative and time burden of outsourced work executed poorly can be devastating (and a source of great frustration for your team).

Instead, recruit the talent to support your growth internally, and build reliable onboarding pathways that help new hires build a deep understanding of your culture, values, and work ethic.

Also, make sure to codify company knowledge and best practice in such a way that makes it easy for everyone to communicate and access — and rest easy in the knowledge that you are in control of your workforce and its output.

Prioritize culture when hiring 

Nothing is more important than hiring talent to support your growth. But hiring the wrong people when you’re scaling fast can be critical.

Depending on the sector you operate in, the hard skills you’re looking for in new hires will vary. But when you’re growing, I find there are two key factors you must consider: is this individual a good culture fit, and are they prepared to enter the whirlwind of hyper-growth?

As a scaling startup, your team can go from knowing everything about everyone, to staring into a sea of new faces. Not only can this be a challenge for your original team, but it’s also a big test of company culture.

The only way to ensure a growing team doesn’t completely change the group dynamic is to be confident that your new hires ‘get it’ and will seamlessly slot in.

A genuine understanding of (and passion for) your mission — along with a readiness to keep up with the pace and challenges synonymous with growth — will enable new hires to assimilate into your team more quickly, meaning you can get the best out of them, and they can do their best for you. 

Be upfront about your growth strategies 

Your team will perform best when they are prepared for how things are going to change. In order to protect employees old and new, I try to be as transparent as I can be about what I’m planning and how my growth aspirations might impact their experience at work. 

People need to understand the environment they will be working in — and choose whether they want to be part of the next phase of your startup’s journey.

Ultimately, rapid growth changes the pace and dynamic of any team. The role they signed up for two years ago might not be the one you’re presenting to them now.

Your people deserve to know when their work life is about to undergo this kind of shift; and a failure to be upfront can impact culture by breeding resentment, mistrust, and the loss of strong talent.

Communicating your growth strategies will help you ensure everyone on your team is in it for the long haul — and, crucially, prepared for what’s ahead. 

Encourage side hustles 

There’s nothing quite like directionless inventing to breed innovative ideas and satisfy the creative impulse. So encouraging your team to pursue passion projects — on company time — is a valuable practice at a fast-growth startup.

At Virti, we hold ‘Games Jams’ every few weeks, where our team is encouraged to spend a few days testing out an idea they love. Whether it’s a new app to support children in hospital, or an AI that tells you when your car’s brake lights are about to blow, we give everyone space to use their skills to create something new.

None of these projects are being pursued with profit in mind. There are no expectations or precedents for success. It’s simply an opportunity for everyone to flex their creative muscles, let off some steam, and work together outside the scope of their roles.

Not only is it a lot of fun and a great way to learn about each other, but it also sparks ideas and creative thinking that we can then leverage when we get back to work.

Honoring that your people are going to have passions outside of their day job — and giving them the space and resources to pursue them — is a necessary tonic to the fast-paced world of hyper-growth; and is one of the very best things you can do to nurture a strong, supportive, and creative culture.

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