We take a look back at conversations with other growth-stage founders on how the early-stage learnings as a startup helped them navigate scale. 

L-R: Aspire's Joel Leong, Tonik's Greg Krasnov, Finhay's Huy Nghiem, and Pinhome's Dayu Dara Permata

4 ways the startup mindset pays off when a company scales

We take a look back at conversations with other growth-stage founders on how the early-stage learnings as a startup helped them navigate scale. 

Following our podcast with Fazz Chief of Staff and Head of Payments and Agent Business Mark Hew on keeping the underdog mindset alive in a post-Series C company, we take a look back at conversations with other growth-stage (i.e., post-Series B and up in terms of funding scale raised) founders on how the early-stage learnings as a startup helped them navigate scale. 

(1) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Battle tested organizations are more suited to find creative solutions to scale and make hard decisions. 

Pinhome CEO and co-founder Dayu Dara Permata shares, “…repeatedly we had to activate survival mode and take extreme measures to preserve cash. We’ve gone through that cycle from the beginning, [with the pandemic] multiple times, given the external conditions. [And so] internally we’re ready. We have the capabilities and the resources where we have to activate survival mode.”

These “survival mode” capabilities include being able to deprioritize experiments and products that are not working early on with the understanding of how this will sustain the business long-term and prevent more drastic measures like layoffs. 

Creativity also came in handy with rethinking fundraising in a tough environment. “And that also means in a situation, especially like now where, cash could be extremely dilutive, looking for ways to raise capital that’s non-dilutive, let’s say, debt, to finance classic ROI, like positive ROI product lines, that was a really big learning for us.”

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(2) How are you scaling as a leader?

Developing management level is important as organization scales. The flexibility required from a leader of taking an early stage startup from zero to one cannot be lost as the business settles into relative stability, even as systems become more professionalized. 

Finhay CEO and co-founder Huy Nghiem emphasizes the importance of continuous learning for leaders in his company. “As a company with 160 people, there are many functional teams, departments, and scopes of business. It requires not just myself, but also the next level of leaders to improve their skills. Not just technical skills, but also leadership, communication, teamwork, and fundamental models for cross-functional teams.”

These learnings can come from having doors opened to conversations with more mature companies and leaders, often through investors. 

“We also need more knowledge from bigger companies. For example, we obtained training hosted by one of our shareholders. They invited consultants from America to come to Vietnam and identify or analyze cases to see if they can apply to our company and how we can improve. One of the things we learned was authentic leadership, influence, and creating a company culture.”

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(3) Keeping up “war room” level channels of communication

Create touchpoints for communication to rally cross-functional participation in initiatives. 

As the organization matures, the lines across functions are more concretely defined. While this matures processes and controls within the organization, it also runs the risk of setting up “zones of indifference” where laser-focus on function specific goals prevents risk-taking and cross-functional innovation. It becomes important to be able to unify functions towards shared goals, especially when the cross-functional project in question takes teams out of their comfort zone. 

When we asked Aspire CMO and co-founder Joel Leong about how he approaches bringing together teams in the company’s B2B community building efforts, he boils it down to communication.

“It’s also about creating the available touchpoints for that communication. Like do you have kickoff calls that align everyone? Do you have weekly updates to relevant stakeholders so they’re not kept in the dark? More and more, it’s looking for opportunities like that. How can you continue to make that alignment more robust?…that’s the only way it works, right? One of our core values is ownership and that’s really how we operate. How else do you do things when you’re an organization that’s 400 large?”

Ultimately, regardless of the project or the goals, the company mission and vision alignment is the fundamental principle that will bring functions and teams together. The absence of such an alignment is not as glaring in the early stages when the company is one team, but the zones of indifference can start to form as the organization scales. 

“You really see the difference in an organization that’s aligned in terms of its mission, in terms of its culture and the impact that is multiplied when your numbers grow. I think it’s a problem that is a lot less visible when you’re a small organization, but as you grow, that becomes — it’s kind of the number one thing on my mind these days.”

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(4) Company culture lives through storytelling

The most effective communication of a company’s mission and vision are in the stories leaders tell their organization. 

It can come from the stories of how they started the company or lived experiences that inspired them to start the company to stories from customers where their lives were changed because of the work the company does.

Tonik CEO and founder Greg Krasnov shares one instance of a story he shared with the company. “She literally just contacted me on Facebook out of the blue and said, “Thank you so much for letting me take the loan,” and walked me through the life story situation that had helped her turn things around. And man, that just made my day. 

And then I shared that with the rest of the team, actually with the whole company, and the number of hearts that I got on that, on our company chat, was a record.”

Listen to the full podcast

More resources on leadership:

  1. 12 Learnings For Startup CEOs On Leading Fast-Growing Organizations
  2. The Art Of Letting Go: 7 Things Growth-Stage Venture-Backed Founders Let Go For Growth
  3. Our podcast with Alibaba Global Initiatives division founder Brian Wong
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Paulo Joquiño is a writer and content producer for tech companies, and co-author of the book Navigating ASEANnovation. He is currently Editor of Insignia Business Review, the official publication of Insignia Ventures Partners, and senior content strategist for the venture capital firm, where he started right after graduation. As a university student, he took up multiple work opportunities in content and marketing for startups in Asia. These included interning as an associate at G3 Partners, a Seoul-based marketing agency for tech startups, running tech community engagements at coworking space and business community, ASPACE Philippines, and interning at workspace marketplace FlySpaces. He graduated with a BS Management Engineering at Ateneo de Manila University in 2019.