No-nonsense perspectives on startup growth

This article was published on December 11, 2020


4 tips to survive your startup’s awkward adolescence

Growth comes with challenges, but you can overcome them

4 tips to survive your startup’s awkward adolescence
Neha Sampat
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Neha Sampat

CEO, Contentstack

Neha is the CEO of Contentstack. An outspoken advocate for women in leadership, she can often be found appearing on keynote stages or expert Neha is the CEO of Contentstack. An outspoken advocate for women in leadership, she can often be found appearing on keynote stages or expert panels discussing her experiences as an entrepreneur and the future of headless CMS technology.

Growing a business sometimes feels like raising a child. In the beginning, you have a lot of busy, exciting days and more than a few sleepless nights. But eventually, your creation takes on a life of its own.

As your team expands, you must welcome new influences and personalities. And as exciting as it is to see such growth, you worry about losing the magic of those early days. Will you hold onto your ideals? Will your team maintain the kind of trust that fuels collaboration? Will your company’s true potential be realized?

At Contentstack, we are entering a period of rapid growth fueled by our recent Series A funding, and we know that retaining the culture that got us here is paramount to our continued success. But we also know that change is a natural and necessary part of scaling a company.

By reflecting on past ventures, keenly observing our own development, and analyzing relevant research, my team and I have identified some important strategies to grow and evolve a company while maintaining the culture upon which it was built.

1. Give everyone a seat at the table

Contentstack may have been created when the other founders and myself spun it out of our previous venture, Built.io, but the organization would not be what it is today without the contributions of our team.

When we asked employees what they loved about working at Contentstack, one of the most common responses was that each team member felt they had a voice in the organization.

Giving every employee a seat at the table to offer their ideas and constructive criticism builds trust, employee satisfaction, and ultimately retention. This helps ensure that the people who helped create your company culture will stick around and help maintain it.

Giving everyone a voice also helps integrate new employees and bring important ideas and observations to the surface. As we hire new team members, we want them to know that they never need to apologize for trying to make Contentstack better.

New team members can offer fresh perspectives and novel solutions. If our team doesn’t feel like they can speak up, we will miss out on brilliant ideas, easy fixes, and warning signs that can prevent bigger problems.

2. Empower people to do the best work of their career

Along with making people feel heard, one of the most important steps we take to keep great talent and maintain a culture of innovation and growth is to empower Contentstack employees to do the best work of their career.

In the tech sector specifically, it’s not uncommon for passionate, ambitious people to move on when another company or project offers a greater level of opportunity and excitement. We prevent this by ensuring that employees don’t need to look elsewhere in order to experiment and innovate. 

In discussing and defining our company culture, team members noted that we have a “bias for action.” Of course, a bias for action doesn’t mean jumping the gun or running with a new direction as soon as we think of it. It means that, when facing the choice between taking action on an issue or opportunity or sitting back and watching, we choose to act.

This proactive approach, however, goes hand-in-hand with giving people the freedom and security to fail. Not every experiment will work, but when an action doesn’t have the effect we anticipated, we focus on what we learned, not what we lost.

When people know that experimentation is valued, whether or not it’s successful, they are willing to take the calculated risks that lead to major breakthroughs.

3. Look for a culture add, not a culture fit

Many growing companies consider culture fit to be an important factor in hiring. But as we expand our team, we are rethinking this idea. We don’t just want people who fit in and keep us comfortable.

We want people who bring new viewpoints and experiences. We want people who will push the company further toward our goal of leading a new field of content experience platforms. In fact, research shows that more diverse staff leads to better performance.

“Nonhomogenous teams are simply smarter,” write David Rock and Heidi Grant in the Harvard Business Review. “Working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance.” 

That being said, we still want to hire candidates that share our work ethic and values. We look for people who possess core qualities like grit and determination, but we must keep in mind that those qualities come in different forms and from different walks of life.

Identifying and hiring for key traits like this is what allows us to expand and diversify our team while preserving our shared identity. 

4. Put your values in writing

Just as writing down your goals makes you more likely to achieve them, solidifying and documenting your company’s core values makes you more likely to maintain them. You can’t preserve and grow your company culture if you haven’t taken the time to identify the qualities that make it unique and successful.

That’s why we gathered our leadership team to discuss and draft our core values. We then presented them to our employees to get their feedback and input. Cementing our company identity is necessary not only to preserve who we are now, but also to ensure we become the business we want to be in the future.

Rapid growth is a delicate endeavor for any company. No one wants to lose the excitement and collaboration that helped you get there, but a new stage of growth comes with new challenges that require adaptation.

We will continue to experiment and learn, but we’re confident that these ideas will help us thrive as we progress in our mission to revolutionize the content experience.

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