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  • Writer's pictureMax Wenneker

When Growing Pains Become Unbearable: How to Fix Major Startup Problems

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

You built something from nothing. You had an idea, you hustled, and now you've got a thriving business on your hands. But success brings its own set of challenges. When your startup starts really taking off, the headaches seem to multiply even faster. Cash flow issues, hiring struggles, operational inefficiencies — they're all threats looming on the horizon.

The truth is, the problems that come with rapid growth can be utterly overwhelming. You feel like a fraud as a leader and wonder if you have what it takes to guide your startup to the next level. But here's the good news: these pains are a normal part of the process. Every successful founder has been there. And the even better news? There are solutions for each of these major problems. With some planning and determination, you can implement the fixes you need to relieve the pressure and set your startup up for sustainable growth. The path forward won't always be easy, but if you're willing to make hard choices, face your fears, and trust in your vision, you can overcome the challenges of scale.

Hiring Too Quickly: How to Avoid Scaling Your Team Too Fast

When your startup is growing quickly, it can be tempting to hire fast to keep up with demand. But scaling your team too rapidly often leads to major problems down the road. The law of diminishing returns undoubtedly applies when hiring additional people, so it's important to be careful in bringing on too many at once, even if it may seem logical to just bring on more people. Here are some tips to avoid this common founder mistake:

Go Slow and Be Selective

It's hard to know exactly who the right people will be for your company, particularly early on. Better to be conservative on hiring and hone your ideal profile, then hire more. Take the time to carefully evaluate candidates and be extremely selective. It's easier to add roles later than to remove people who aren't the right fit.

Get Help from Outside Experts

If you're not experienced in hiring, get help from HR consultants, executive recruiters, or coaches. They can help define the right roles, screening process, interview techniques, and compensation for your startup's stage. Their guidance and network will result in better hires.

Onboard new hires thoroughly

Once you've found the right people, invest heavily in onboarding them. Have a structured onboarding process to educate them about your vision, culture, processes, and product. Pair them with mentors and set clear goals and expectations. Proper onboarding will make them productive faster and increase the likelihood they become long-term members of your team.

Ramping up your team quickly can end badly, with high turnover, poor culture fit, lack of role clarity, and general chaos. Build your team thoughtfully and carefully. While it may feel slower, the results will be worth it. Your startup will be in a much better position to handle rapid growth and scale.

Losing Focus: Staying Mission-Driven in the Face of New Opportunities

As a fast-growing startup, opportunities are coming at you from every angle. New partnerships, exciting projects, and chances to scale quickly. It's tempting to chase them all, but doing so will only spread you too thin and cause you to lose focus.

To stay mission-driven, you need to learn how to say no. Evaluate each new option against your core mission and vision. Ask yourself if this will directly impact key priorities or distract you from bigger goals. Don't be afraid to pass on chances that don't align, no matter how tempting. Your mission is the reason you started this company, so stay laser-focused on the key objectives that will make or break your success.

Once you've determined your "yes's", delegate as much as possible. Assign team members to lead key projects and partnerships so you can stay focused on high-level strategy. Check in regularly to provide guidance without micromanaging. Empower others to make decisions and advance initiatives. The more you delegate, the more you can focus on growth and avoid overload.

It's also critical to revisit your roadmap and key milestones often. Make sure short-term objectives still ladder up to big picture goals. Re-align and re-focus as needed. Your mission and vision may evolve as you scale, so refer back to them frequently to ensure priorities still match. With a clear roadmap and effective delegation, you'll be able to navigate new opportunities without losing sight of what really matters: achieving your mission and vision. Staying focused on the essentials will help your startup grow in a sustainable way.

Team Conflicts: Managing Interpersonal Issues Before They Derail You

When your startup is growing quickly, interpersonal conflicts can emerge and threaten to derail all your hard work. As the founder, it’s your job to address team issues before they spiral out of control.

Pay close attention to signs of unrest like decreased productivity, lack of collaboration, or passive aggressive behavior. Don’t ignore problems or hope they’ll resolve themselves. Have open, honest conversations with your team members to identify the root cause(s) of friction. Sometimes it’s a simple misunderstanding, sometimes it’s a more complex issue around work styles or values.

Once you’ve identified issues, facilitate a discussion where people feel heard and respected. Focus on interests, not positions, and look for compromise and common ground. Be willing to listen without judgment and ask lots of questions to make sure you understand all perspectives.

Compromise and adjustment will likely be required from all sides. Help your team establish some shared principles and values to guide decision making and conflict resolution. Be very clear in communicating expectations around acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You may need to provide coaching to help people adapt their styles.

If conflicts continue, you may need to consider whether individuals are the right fit for your startup’s culture. For example, just because you know someone personally does not make them the right fit for your organization. But don’t make rash decisions. With time and effort, you can work through many team issues. The key is addressing them before the situation becomes unsalvageable. Your startup’s success depends on a motivated, cohesive team, so make team health a priority and set the right example through your own leadership.

Staying on top of team dynamics and intervening at the first sign of trouble is one of the hardest but most important skills for a founder to develop. But by fostering open communication and a shared set of values, you can turn interpersonal conflicts into an opportunity to build trust and strengthen your team.

Leadership Failures: Developing the CEO Skills to Guide Your Company

As a founder, your leadership abilities will be pushed to the limit. Managing people is hard enough, but guiding a fast-growing startup brings a whole new set of challenges. Here are a few of the leadership failures founders frequently experience, and how to overcome them.

Delegating effectively.

It's difficult to hand over control, but as a startup scales, you can't do everything yourself. Learn to delegate responsibilities to capable team members. Provide clear direction and feedback, then step back and let them work independently. This will empower your team and allow you to focus on higher-level priorities.

Communication breakdowns.

With more people and moving parts, communication suffers. Be transparent, set clear expectations, and overcommunicate through multiple channels. Hold regular meetings, send weekly updates, and make yourself available to address questions and concerns. Foster an open culture where people feel comfortable speaking up.

Lacking strategic vision.

When dealing with daily fires, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Make time to step back and evaluate where your startup is heading and how to get there. Set concrete goals and key milestones to work toward. Share this vision with your team so everyone is on the same page. Revisit and revise as needed to account for changes.

Micromanaging teams.

Resist the urge to control every detail as your company grows. Hire great people, train them well, and trust them to get the job done. Micromanaging will only slow progress and reduce morale and motivation. Provide teams with autonomy and authority over their work. Step in only when needed to offer guidance or deal with obstacles.

Refusing to evolve leadership style.

The leadership approach that worked for a small team won't scale. Adapt your style to fit your startup's changing needs. Just as you upgrade certain positions to different skill sets over time, so too do you need to upgrade your own leadership skill set. Be flexible, open to feedback, and willing to learn new skills. Get coaching or mentoring from more experienced leaders. Your startup's success depends on your ability to grow into an effective leader. Focus on self-improvement and you'll build a company that can withstand any growing pains.

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