By Madeline MacFarlane
The view from inside a startup is crazy. It can feel hectic, stressful, and out of control, while being simultaneously invigorating, joyful, and electric – especially when your startup sees massive organic growth quickly like Holistiplan has over the past couple years.
Yes, it’s a lot – but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. The lessons, responsibilities, and connections you experience are so unique, I don’t think you could truly learn and appreciate them any other way. I wish everyone could have the same experience so they can find out what they learn about business and themselves!
This past year, Holistiplan has seen massive growth – hitting over 10,000 users in early 2022. It’s been such a great ride watching our team’s hard work come to fruition. It’s also presented new challenges: how to adapt to larger workloads, cater to more clients, and keep the inner workings of the company running smoothly.
As the Customer Onboarding Specialist here at Holistiplan, I get to know nearly everyone: our users, the leadership team, the customer support staff, and so on. I believe this daily interaction gives me a unique 360-degree view of our company, and I’ve learned a few key lessons that I think can help advisors and tech companies alike when they start to see growth.
Here are my five biggest takeaways for startups based on Holistiplan’s record-breaking year of hyper-growth.
5 Takeaways From a Year of Hyper-Growth
1. Embrace Chaos (AKA Opportunity)
One of the first big things I learned throughout the past year is that you can’t be afraid to try a few different things at once. I’ve always heard that everyone does a little bit of everything at startups, and Holistiplan is no different. I had the chance to experiment and work with others to find out what I’m truly good at and, even more, what I really enjoyed.
That open-mindedness paid off in the long run. I pitched in everywhere, which provided a much deeper understanding of how a company runs than I would have had otherwise. It can feel comfortable and safe to stick with what you know – but by taking a few chances, you can come closer to reaching your full potential, and find out firsthand how a business runs.
2. Delegate When Necessary
This one is easier said than done – especially for those who love to be in control of projects. But when your company is experiencing massive, fast-paced growth, delegation can be the difference between success and failure.
Delegation hinges on hiring and working with people you value, respect, and can trust to get the work done well. Hire the right people, give them the tools they need to succeed, divide up responsibilities, and keep communication open.
3. Focus on the Future
There was one moment at Holistiplan where I became so overwhelmed with our workload I was ready to give up. I was doing two jobs at once – something I was glad to do when neither took up too much of my time. As we grew and more users were on the software, things were hectic – but nothing we couldn’t handle, I thought.
I severely underestimated how busy things would get after a packed webinar brought a simultaneous spike in people reaching out to our support email and, due to the publicity, an increase in uploads. In just 25 minutes, we got over 200 emails and 45 uploads.
Everyone knew something had to change. We realized we needed more people on the team to help even out workflows during busy times so we could avoid getting to that panicked moment again.
When those moments occur, it’s important to take a deep breath, step back, and assess the situation. Where are the bugs in the system, and how can we repair them?
You should have a plan detailing how you’ll accommodate growth before the growth is actually happening. The second you or your team starts thinking, “If we get any more work, we’re going to be miserable,” pull the trigger on your plan!
Adding more people was truly a saving grace across the board for our team, but your plan might involve outsourcing, upgrading your tech, or something else.
4. Prioritize Culture
Work environment has a huge impact on the success (or lack thereof) of a company. It’s impossible to exactly replicate a company culture, but there is something really special about the way our team works together.
We are and always have been a distributed team – we have an office for people who want it, but it doesn’t get much use. As we grew, we started hiring people all over the country, not just in Texas.
Building company culture and camaraderie with a remote team can be really hard, since we pretty much only see each other during meetings and on a computer screen. But it’s important! A team that knows each other well, works together well.
We implemented a few extra touches to help our team connect. Every week, we spend 15 minutes learning something about a coworker – it can be anything from hobbies to family history. We also have quarterly all-hands meetings in person. You simply can’t overstress the value of being able to touch and speak with the people you work with every day. Plus, flying everyone in from all levels from support to leadership lets everyone know that they play an essential role at the company.
In addition, even when Holistiplan was just a few employees at the beginning, we were very open about respecting that people can and should have a life outside of work. As we’ve grown and added a support team and other members, we have to continue to lead by example. Kids get sick, pets get sick, cars break down – life happens.
As leaders, you have to be willing to take days off so your employees know it’s okay for them to do so as well. A lot of startups talk about how they offer “unlimited vacation” as a benefit for their team, but the reality is that many of these companies are run by bosses who never take vacations, so the employees don’t end up taking vacation either. Lead by example.
5. Stay Flexible
You try your best, but that doesn’t always end up as you imagined. If a system or process isn’t working, don’t be afraid to trash it and try something else.
Growing fast means that there isn’t much time to totally switch systems, and many people hesitate to make changes in those moments. But if you continue moving forward without a solid foundation, you’re likely setting yourself up to be even further behind down the road. Sometimes the best move you can make is to slow down and start fresh.
Here’s a little bonus tip specifically for a distributed company growing fast: put in an effort to connect with everyone at the company.
You need to remind new and old employees what the goal is, keep everyone updated, and maintain focus on what’s important. At Holistiplan, that looks like 15 minutes a week spent learning something new about our coworkers. It’s a quarterly all-hands meeting where you get to meet and interact with all the new employees. A key component to thriving during a growth phase is making sure each member of the team knows they are an integral part of the company.
Holistiplan’s fast-paced growth has offered several learning opportunities – I hope to see each of your companies thrive and succeed using these six key takeaways.
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