Business Growth | The Right Way

Gareth Williams Founder & CEO
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Businesses are frequently measured on ‘growth’: growth in headcount, turnover, profit. Some business decisions are taken to be indicative of growth, like an office move, but how can a business accurately measure growth if they do not decide what ‘growth’ is to them – and is growth always a positive thing?

What is growth?

When I think about growth, I picture an increase in size in some dimension. I have two children and watching them grow is incredible – and full of surprises – but too much growth in adulthood can sometimes bring health problems. A business needs to grow from childhood to maturity: but what or when is maturity healthy, and what is the tipping point into bad health? Having a clear internal shared understanding of what healthy maturity looks like enables you to spot the warning symptoms of a business running to seed.

A city isn’t built in a day

Whether born from a crossing, river, point of trade, or the birthplace of an industry, small collections of people with a shared purpose and shared goal have built the sprawling metropolises that we see around the world today. With that growth comes opportunity, but it also brings problems: poor sanitation, traffic, pollution, and housing. Growth puts pressure on infrastructure and only reinvestment can solve those problems. With better infrastructure, a city’s health improves: its growth gets back on track and its people prosper.

Sparsely populated city in background with calm water in foreground

What growth stage is YellowDog at?

Honestly, we are still pre-adolescence! We’ve outgrown the nappies and have moved on from being a toddler, but we’re certainly not a teenager either. I’m looking for relevant growth that will help us develop quickly to maturity without ignoring the infrastructure that we need to build along the way.

I’ve always talked about YellowDog growing in a sustainable way: not just for the environment, but for the people that make up YellowDog.  If you grow in the wrong way, you put a strain on the people and the teams that give you that growth. You put a strain on your finances at times, and you pull at the very fabric that makes your brand what it is.

Putting structures in place to support your growth is vital. One example of how we’re doing that at YellowDog is by gaining our ISO 27001 certificate; doing what we’ve always done but with even more robust security measures which will help us grow more quickly in this next phase.

Why is growing quickly important? Because once you reach a certain size you can do more: you have more control and power over your decisions, with the ability to reinvest in a different and better way, not just with your own people but with your customers.

Getting it wrong will cost, and in more ways than money

Growing well means maintaining your company culture, ensuring that your people feel supported, invested in, with positive wellbeing, and your customers continue to feel supported.

If you get it wrong, you lose part of what’s important to you as you grow. The bigger you get, the more necessary it becomes to create more processes, more formal ways of doing things.  You will have to expect more politics and bureaucracy – that’s the downside of a growing internal infrastructure.

It’s vital to get the tension and balance right: how can you maintain your personality and culture as a business when you develop a team of three people into a force of three hundred people? What was it about your company that people flocked to when it was a growing start-up? How can you ensure that you don’t lose them when you move to two offices, four offices, six countries?

Here at YellowDog, our move from SETsquared at Engine Shed to Runway East was deliberate. We’re graduating from an incubator environment to a growth environment, but it still maintains our ethos and our culture. It is still a vibrant place to work, and that was a considered opinion. We want to grow right.

YellowDog office with 3 employees in shot working on laptops with array of chairs, screens, plants, and awards in environment

Growth isn’t always in one direction

Goals change. Priorities change. Markets change. As your company grows you’ll reach different stages in your journey, and those are good opportunities to stop, look, and decide whether it’s time to reposition yourselves, to rebirth the company.

Your culture may need to change, your KPIs may need to change, your team may need to change. Accepting that you’re in a different growth phase can mean deliberately making changes. As we’ve seen in cities, the most successful have had multiple rebirths, looking very different now to what they did fifty years ago, let alone five hundred years ago.

Let’s keep growing

Growth, health, adaptation: we could almost be talking about a creature, rather than a business. But let’s be honest, there are huge similarities. I look back with fond memories on YellowDog as a newborn idea, as a toddler, and now in full blown childhood. I want to keep seeing it, and the people that make it, grow. But not at any cost.

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